Set Free to Choose Right: Equipping Today's Kids to Make Right Moral Choices for Life

Set Free to Choose Right: Equipping Today's Kids to Make Right Moral Choices for Life

by Josh McDowell


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Popular Author, Speaker, and Founder of the Josh McDowell Ministry Speaks Out on the Popular, Culturally Relevant Topic of Right vs. Wrong
Directed to parents and gatekeepers of today’s youth, renowned speaker and author Josh McDowell focuses on the how-to’s of teaching teens and pre-teens to make right moral choices. 

Set Free to Choose Right will help you come to understand:
  • why today’s kids feel they have the right to determine what is “right” or “wrong” for themselves
  • how culture reinforces that there are no universal truths and. . .
  • where this misconception historically originated
  • how to motivate kids to make good choices
  • it is God’s character and nature that makes right, right and wrong, wrong

Engaging stories and helpful illustration are provided to model how a person (of any age) can distinguish between right and wrong and make the right choice—every time!

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781634099745
Publisher: Barbour Publishing, Incorporated
Publication date: 02/01/2018
Pages: 224
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Josh McDowell has been at the forefront of cultural trends and groundbreaking ministry for over five decades. He shares the essentials of the Christian faith in everyday language so that youth, families, churches, leaders, and individuals of all ages are prepared for the life of faith and the work of the ministry. This includes leveraging resources based on years of experiences, new technologies, and strategic partnerships. Since 1961, Josh has delivered more than 27,000 talks to over 25,000,000 people in 125 countries. He is the author or coauthor of 142 books, including More Than a Carpenter and New Evidence That Demands a Verdict, recognized by World Magazine as one of the top 40 books of the twentieth century. Josh's books are available in over 100 different languages. Josh and his wife,Dottie, are quick to acknowledge that after their love for the Lord, family is their greatest joy and top priority.  They have been married for 46 years and have four wonderful children and ten beloved grandchildren. For more information, please visit 


Read an Excerpt


What Were You Thinking?

It was a little past 10:30 p.m. when Aubrey Jefferies slipped quietly into her home. The PTA board meeting had droned on much longer than she anticipated, and she hoped her husband, Brad, had not waited up for her. The lights were turned off, so she assumed that he and their two teenage children were already in bed. Guided by hallway nightlights, she tiptoed up the stairway and down the hall, hoping she could slip into bed without awakening her husband.

As she made her way past the bedroom of Jayden, their fourteen-year-old son, she thought she heard a muffled sound coming from under the closed door. She stopped to listen. It sounded like the voice of a woman. Aubrey slowly turned the doorknob and peered into the room. Jayden was sitting at his desk with his back to her, staring intently at his computer. Displayed on the screen was a provocative young woman, completely naked, speaking to the viewer in seductive tones.

"Jayden! What are you doing?" Aubrey blurted as she stepped into the room.

The startled boy slammed his computer shut and turned wide-eyed toward his mother. "I–I was just ... It–it's not what you think, Mom," Jayden stammered.

"Don't lie to me, young man," Aubrey retorted as she flipped on his bedroom light. "I saw what you were doing." She stepped back into the hallway. "Bradley," she called, "come to Jayden's room — right now!"

In a matter of seconds, Brad was in the room facing his wife, her voice approaching a shriek, and her finger jabbing the air toward their son as she explained how she had caught him viewing internet porn.

"Dad, it wasn't like that," Jayden protested. "I was just doing some school research, and I just happened to ..."

"You were researching naked girls for school?" his mother interrupted. "I don't think so!"

"Okay, okay, let's chill a little." Brad motioned with his hand for Aubrey to calm down.

"Jayden, are you saying you weren't on a porn site?"

"Yeah, no — I mean, I was just — uh — doing some research for my homework, and I came across this site and didn't really know what it was until I ..."

"So you admit it, you were on a porn site!" Aubrey interrupted.

"Okay, okay!" Jayden countered. "I may have ended up on a site like that, but it's not that big a deal. Come on, Dad, you know how it is."

"Bradley!" Aubrey looked straight at her husband. "What does he mean, 'you know how it is'?"

Brad hesitated, took a deep breath, motioned for his wife to back off, and spoke directly to his son. "You and I have talked about the dangers of porn sites before, Jayden. There's a lot of bad stuff out there." Jayden, feeling like a cornered animal, stared at his feet. "Look at me, son," Brad said in a soft tone. "Have you been getting into this stuff?"

"No," Jayden protested.

"Let me see your computer." Brad reached out for his son's laptop. The boy reluctantly handed it over.

Brad quickly checked the computer history. He slowly shook his head as he looked at his wife and then back to his son.

"You're lying, son. You've been doing this a lot." Brad's voice clearly conveyed his disappointment. "Whose credit card have you been using?"

"Credit card?" Aubrey responded. "You mean you've been paying for this slutty stuff!"

"Come on. Whose card, Jayden?" his dad insisted.

Jayden stared at the floor and in a low voice said, "Mom's."

"You've been using my card to visit porn sites?" Aubrey's voice rose with each word. "Shame on you, Jayden Allen!"

Brad shook his head slowly. "What were you thinking, Jayden? You know this isn't right. We've taught you better than this."

"Okay, okay!" A touch of belligerence edged Jayden's voice. "I'll pay you back for the credit card charges, but I don't see why you're making this into such a big deal. Everybody does it, and I'm not hurting anyone."

What Makes Right Choices Difficult

Like Brad and Aubrey in the above story, we all want our kids to resist temptation and make right choices. We try to give our kids wise counsel, teach them what is morally right and wrong, and hope they follow through and do the right thing. Yet it has become increasingly more difficult to lead our kids to make right choices. It's not that parents, grandparents, pastors, youth workers, and Christian educators aren't desperately trying. Today more than ever, gatekeepers of youth are running scared that our increasingly ungodly culture is drawing our kids away from biblical moral truth.

No doubt you have felt that fear. There is no denying that we face an uphill battle, but it is a battle that we can definitely win. In spite of formidable competition from our pervasive culture, it is still possible to instill biblical morality within your kids that will govern their choices. But to do so we must come to grips with at least three critical issues. To empower our kids to discern right from wrong, we need to squarely address a cultural issue, a child development issue, and a parental methodology issue. Confronting and understanding these issues will lay the solid foundation from which we can set our kids free to choose right.

1. A Cultural Issue

In our story, Jayden's parents considered viewing internet pornography to be morally wrong. But Jayden excused his behavior because to him it was no big deal. His perspective on the issue was that he had the right to judge for himself whether internet porn was wrong for him. He did not see it as that bad because, as he said, "I'm not hurting anyone." He saw it as a private issue that did no harm to either him or to anyone else. So why should it be considered wrong?

Jayden's view is representative of an entire generation of young people who believe that right and wrong are determined by the individual and not by any absolute standard. Many believe they have the right to decide for themselves what is right and to act accordingly. The belief that one can choose his own morality without suffering consequences or hurting anyone is erroneous, as we shall soon see.

Scripture warns us over and over of the consequences of becoming our own arbitrators of truth. This view that truth is relative and individually determined arose in the Garden of Eden and caused the downfall of our primeval parents. It was the prevalent cause of Israel's seesaw history and ultimate collapse. The entire book of Judges provides us with a quintessential example of what happens when a society determines its own morality. It chronicles the devastating results of moral relativism upon a nation. When the people of Israel judged for themselves what was right and wrong, they began to experience severe social dysfunction. Families suffered moral breakdown. Civility was soon abandoned. Theft, violence, and lawlessness became pervasive. The last verse of the final chapter of Judges sums up the cause of the whole problem: "In those days Israel had no King; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes" (Judges 21:25). In other words, moral relativism became the rule of the day, and the cohesiveness of the nation fragmented into rampant individualism.

It is moral relativism that sets the human conscience adrift. It allows the heart and mind to excuse attitudes and behavior that are wrong and harmful to oneself and others. Young Jayden gives us a typical example. In his mind, viewing internet pornography is no big deal. He has formed his own, privately held moral principle that removes pornography from the sin list. He is like 68 percent of teens and young adults in America who don't believe viewing pornographic images is wrong for them.

And it's not just our teens. Think of the people you work with and the neighborhood in which you live. Do these people believe there's a universal moral code to follow, or do they think right and wrong are relative — to be determined by the individual?

While studies show that 80 percent of Americans express concern about the nation's moral condition, 57 percent of your neighbors and coworkers believe truth is relative and that right and wrong are subjectively determined by the individual. And if your neighbors are Millennials (those born between 1984 and 2002), 74 percent of them believe morality is "whatever seems right in their own eyes." These polls express a strange paradox: while Americans are acutely aware that the morality of the nation is declining, they are oblivious to the fact that the slide is caused by their own moral relativism. As a famous cartoon character of the past used to say, "We have met the enemy and he is us."

Among the most alarming factors that play into this issue are the schoolteachers that have authority over your children for six or more hours every day. Do these adults believe there is a truth that is right for everyone or that truth is situational and whatever works for the individual is what is right for that person? It pains me to say that the vast majority of our nation's teachers have been indoctrinated in moral relativism throughout their college years. Duke Pesta, professor at the University of Wisconsin — Oshkosh, makes this astute observation about today's relativistic educational system:

It starts at the top, in the journal articles and published books that secure tenure and impose the ideological dictates determining the construction of curricula and the way we train teachers from kindergarten through high school and beyond. At the highest levels of academia, the tenured professoriate — and the professors, deans, provosts, chancellors, and university presidents who almost always arise from the privileged ranks of this tenured class — there exists a dangerously monolithic echo chamber, where relativistic, post-modern ideas about the world, culture, and truth have become calcified. The consequences to education of this ideological conformity can be witnessed at every level of public, and in many cases private, instruction, for many private schools only hire teachers trained and certified by state-run education programs.

Consequently, from the start most teachers view all learning through the lens of moral relativism. Count on it, if your child is in public school, and perhaps even in some private/Christian schools, he or she is being influenced to believe that right and wrong are to be subjectively determined.

Twenty-five years ago, a major TV network news anchor reported that a significant number of students cheated on their tests and that professors knew that cheating was widespread. This finding was alarming enough, but something even more appalling within that report really caught my attention. The news anchor went on to explain that the majority of the students that cheated did not believe there was anything wrong with it.

That news report, in part, led us to commission a study on morality among teenagers within Christian families and solid Christian churches. Subsequently, we wrote a book that included a full analysis of that study. That book — Right from Wrong: What You Need to Know to Help Youth Make Right Choices — is still in print after two decades, and the book you are now reading is a companion to it. (See epilogue for more information on that book.) Back then, 71 percent of kids from Christian homes believed that moral truth was subjective and individually determined. And the percentage holding that viewpoint has remained constant over the past twenty-five years.

In the pages that follow, we will demonstrate how this relativistic view shows up in your child's world, where it comes from, and how to counter it effectively. Helping your young people redefine the culture's view of truth, especially in the area of sexuality, is a critical step in the process of helping your kids learn to make right moral choices.

In today's highly sexualized and hedonistic culture, much of our moral concerns for our kids do center on sexuality. Almost every facet of society pushes our young people toward sexual immorality. God's way, as we know, leads us in the opposite direction. Paul puts it this way: "We must not engage in sexual immorality" (1 Corinthians 10:8). So leading our kids to make the right moral choices sexually should take high priority in today's cultural climate — not only because it is biblical, but for another reason as well. Lead your kids to make right choices regarding sexuality, and the other guidelines and commands of God will tend to fall in place. Why? Because living pure and faithful sexually encompasses so many other important values in life, including honesty, self-control, respect, love, loyalty, responsibility, trustworthiness, integrity, patience, honor, unity, and intimacy.

Our sexuality touches on much of who we are and how we relate to one another. Help your young people make the right sexual choices, and they will also learn much about what it takes to form and maintain healthy relationships. So our running story at the beginning of each chapter will largely be dealing with choices relating to a young person's sexuality.

2. A Child Development Issue

In our story, Jayden paid for his visits to internet porn sites with his mother's credit card. How could he think he wasn't going to get caught? Didn't he know that the charges would show up on Aubrey's credit card bill? Did he think she wouldn't notice? It's no wonder Brad asked his son, "What were you thinking?"

The answer is that Jayden was not thinking rationally at all. He was not connecting the dots into a composite picture of his actions and their consequences. In fact, he, like virtually all teenagers, is developmentally incapable of making consistent sound, rational thoughts and decisions. Why? Because the decision-making part of the adolescent brain is not yet fully developed. Twenty-five years ago, neuroscientists believed the adolescent brain was as fully matured physically as the adult brain. But through "brain mapping," medical scientists have found that the decision-making part of the brain — the prefrontal cortex — isn't fully developed until a person reaches his or her twenties.

To complicate matters, the limbic system of the adolescent brain, where raw emotions are generated, is in a stage of high-powered rapid development. Dr. Robert Sapolsky, professor of biology, neurology, and neurosurgery at Stanford University, puts it this way: "In an adult, the frontal cortex steadies the activity of parts of the limbic system, a brain region involved in emotion; in contrast, in the teenage brain, the limbic system is already going at full speed, while the frontal cortex is still trying to make sense of the assembly instructions."

What this means is that teenagers' emotions are developing far ahead of their rational thinking. This occurs because the prefrontal cortex in teenagers is not fully mature, and it limits to some degree their ability to make consistent sound decisions, especially under the pressure of volatile emotions. The more-developed, highly active limbic system is like a busy highway crowded with speeding cars. The less-developed frontal cortex is like a traffic signal that doesn't always work correctly. Sometimes it flashes from green to red without hitting yellow. Sometimes it is green in all directions at the same time, prompting emotional pandemonium. Researchers suspect that this imbalance between the two systems keeps teenagers from tracking multiple concepts and inhibits them from gaining instant access to critical memories and thoughts that are necessary components in making consistent sound judgments or controlling unruly emotions.

Imagine your teenagers with a limbic system running at freeway speed, primed to react instantly to anything that might endanger their turf, such as a disagreement with you over fashion, friends, music, or even the viewing of internet porn. With their prefrontal cortex on emotional overload, teenagers don't always have the brainpower to organize their thoughts and make sound decisions. This biological reality has been recognized by the US federal government and has been instrumental in shaping laws to protect adolescents, primarily because they have not fully gained a developmental sense of decision making. In 2005, the US Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty is unconstitutional for juveniles, stating that "parts of the brain involved in behavior control continues to mature through late adolescence."

This isn't to say that teenagers are devoid of a conscience or shouldn't somehow be held accountable for their actions. But it does explain why our kids are prone to wrong choices that seem to make sense to them at the moment. The good news is there are powerful steps you can take to offset the underdeveloped reasoning center of your child's brain. You can help your kids to better navigate through the teen years and still make wise choices — and we will explain how in the later chapters.

3. A Parental Methodology Issue

The information you provide your kids, the guidance you give, and what you say to them are all important. But just as important, or even more so, is how you convey this information. How you relate to your child personally is critical. I have often said, "Your kids won't care how much you know until they know how much you care."


Excerpted from "Set Free to Choose Right"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Josh McDowell Ministry.
Excerpted by permission of Barbour Publishing, Inc.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments 7

Chapter 1 What Were You Thinking? 9

Chapter 2 Who's to Say Who's Right? 23

Chapter 3 Right for a Reason 43

Chapter 4 Rules for a Reason 59

Chapter 5 The Empowering Nature of Grace 75

Chapter 6 Being Models of Right and Wrong Choices 95

Chapter 7 Consider the Choice 113

Chapter 8 Compare It to God 127

Chapter 9 Commit to God's Ways 139

Chapter 10 Count on God's Provision and Protection 153

Epilogue: Resources That Can Help 167

Exhibit: The Porn Phenomenon 171

Endnotes 209

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