With four children—one each in high school, middle school, elementary school, and diapers—I eagerly read last week’s New York Times article on raising successful children. Stick too close and children grow dependent and angry. Ignore them and they lose motivation and get in trouble.

Are my husband and I doing too little or too much? I wondered, wishing the article had included a quiz so I could discover just how successful our children would be.

Growing up on a farm, my brother and I were given plenty of freedom. My mother’s only warning when we went exploring the hundreds of acres of logging trails that cut through the woods behind our house was, “If you see a bear, curl up and play dead.” Rather than making us afraid of bears, her words made us confident we’d know what to do if we saw one.

I no longer live on a farm, but I’ve tried to employ the same philosophy with my own kids. Instead of guarding their every moves, I aim to ask questions and give them instructions that often begin with, “What would you do if…”

When my older sons are skateboarding downtown, I can’t be there. With school set to start in just three weeks, we’ll be separate even more.  But by helping them think about their choices, I hope my kids will make good ones when I’m not around.

Some of my favorite parenting advice is from a preacher who wandered around the Mediterranean 2,000 years ago. “Our responsibility,” the apostle Paul said, “is to encourage the right at all times” (II Corinthians 13:8).

It doesn’t take a degree in child psychology to recognize that children today are bombarded with devestating influences and difficult decisions. More than ever, they need courage to “do right.” My job, like the apostle’s, is to enable them.

The prefix ‘en’ literally means “to become or to cause to have.”

‘Courage’ is simply “the quality of being brave.”

So the word ‘encourage’ actually means “to cause to become brave.”

That’s what I want for my kids—for them to bravely make right choices. Not so they can make the honor roll. So they can honor God.

Sadly, the dangers my children face are more treacherous than the illusive bears that roamed my Oregon woods. I don’t want my kids to be scared, but I do want them to be prepared. That’s why we talk. It’s also why I pray—something I’ll be writing about next week.

But for now, be a courage enabler. Encourage the right choice, the right attitude, the right action. Because the most important quiz isn’t the one I’d like to take to know how successful my children may become. It’s the one they take every day.

With school about to start, what are some ways you encourage your children or children you know?