Article written by Late Dr. John K. John (Published in AIM November 04)
The world of the 21st Century child.
Recently I was traveling by train from Dehradun to Delhi. As soon as I entered the compartment it was evident that I was in trouble as more than half the crowd was middle school students of various Delhi schools returning after winning a cricket match. They jumped up and down the seats, ran around and literally ruled this part of the train. These children were so noisy that I could not concentrate on the view outside the window, leave alone my desire to read the newspaper. Watching the harassed and embarrassed teacher who escorted them, I was happy for choosing something different from teaching children for a living! On that train I saw a microcosm of the world of the modern child, a product of the teachings of Marx, Bertrand Russell and the 20th century psychologists. Having allowed this to happen, now parents and teachers in the west are afraid of their own children. The western parent is also afraid to even have children for a very modern reason; the cost of raising a child in the US is an estimated $250000! In many a home the roles of parents and children would appear to have been reversed. Parents are seen pleading and cringing before small children and allow their four year olds to manipulate and hold them to ransom! The common response from people is “ he is just a child” or “ she will grow out of it”. The behavior itself may change as the child grows older but the inherent values of the bad habits will stay and take different forms. This is increasingly becoming true of the urban populace in this country as well. What has gone wrong? Why is it that even educated and successful people feel helpless when they face the challenge of raising children?
What has gone wrong?
Schoolteachers and parents are unanimous about one thing, the growing tendency of young people to rebel. Disagreement is only on whom is to be blamed; the parents blame the teachers and the teachers blame the parents. On a common platform both blame the educational system or the modern rat race! The recurring theme of cartoon films, movies and music seems to be fantasy with a liberal mix of revengeful violence, practice of black magic and occult and meaningless sex; all of which in essence are forms of rebellion against teachers, parents and eventually God. Satan has succeeded in replacing childhood innocence with rebellious fantasy and untruth. This of course is not a recent phenomenon. The difference lies in the extent of visuals used and its impact on the child. What is the origin of rebellion, tensions and violence in the society?
The OT Law
There is a tendency among Christians to ignore the OT law. In fact this is a part of the rebellious world’s slow entry into the church. Well-meaning preachers and teachers contrast the gospel with the law whereas Jesus had said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the Prophets; but to fulfill them” Mat 5.17. Deuteronomy 5 gives us the recipe for harmonious relationships, which has submission first to God and then to fellow beings at its core. The most important part of the Ten Commandments however is not the rules themselves but the preface given in verse 6 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt the land of slavery”. God simply wanted the Israelites to realize that He loves them and was giving these rules out of his love and concern for their well-being as repeatedly mentioned throughout the book. Imagine a four-year old child wanting to put his tiny finger in to the power socket on the wall. A loving father out of his love and concern for the safety of the child would give a stern warning rather than a discourse on the properties of electricity. However we see the reason for the laws as we read the whole book of Deuteronomy carefully. Later Jesus, the God incarnate, explained the purpose of the law, just as a father explains the ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ to an older son.
Submission and Parents
The first four commandments deal with worship and honor of the Father in Heaven while the fifth exhorts us to honor our earthly parents. The last five commandments sum up the basic requirements of harmonious relationships in a godly society. One of the eternal truths about raising children is the order in which these commandments are placed. Unless a child learns to revere and worship the creator God and honor his parents, he would have difficulty in maintaining good relationships with others. Rebellious behavior is an outcome of failure on the part of the child to revere and submit to God and honor parents in that order. Yesterday’s rebellious child is today’s unruly worker, the power hungry politician and the ever-angry young man. And what happens when a rebellious person is given (or more often manipulates his ways to usurp some one else’s) lawful authority? He will be a disaster for those over whom he exercises authority. It would appear that the basic qualification for being a political leader is a rebellious past! We have in our society abusive politicians, bureaucrats, police officers and judges who have never been submissive themselves. This is true within families as well. The worst abusers of power are those who have not learned to be submissive to authority. Not long ago I was talking to a man who had difficulty in holding on to a job for long. His problem was in the area of submission to authority. His biggest challenge came when he was put in a position of authority over others. On probing further he revealed the rebellious hatred he nursed towards his father for what the father had done to him when he was a child.
Child the father of humankind
What is the solution? Children, Worship God and respect and obey your parents. You may be now thinking “you do not know my parents, they are so old fashioned and rigid. They keep telling me what I should do and should not do!” Yes, obeying your parents all the time is difficult but the Bible gives no other option for children. The truth is that rebellion hurts those who rebel the most. Submission to parents is a prerequisite for your own well being. If you feel your parents are unreasonable the best thing to do is to pray for them and express your feelings to your parents themselves in a respectful manner. You could also get help from your church leader or a mature relative. If you rebel against your parents and do not learn to be submissive to them as a child, you would face problems of relationships at school, university and the outside world.
Parents, the Pastor and Teacher at home
Parents, there is nothing more satisfying on this side of eternity than to see your child grow to love your Lord. You are the representative of God in this ministry of teaching the way of the Lord and demonstrating the love of God to the child. The fifth commandment is the link between the first four and the last five. Therefore, invest everything in shepherding the heart of the child from the time the child is born. Imitate the lawgiver God of Israel in loving your child to the point of using the rod of correction. Teach your child to love and worship the Lord. Teach her the Ten Commandments and practice them yourself. As the Lord explained the importance of teaching the law to children he says:
“These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates”. Deut. 6:6-9
Teach the child as much from the Bible as you can even if the child does not understand everything you teach. You must set biblical limits for the child’s behavior and lovingly but strictly enforce them. Be consistent and true to what you proclaim and do. Grace demands that promises and warnings must be followed through, as this is a godly trait. One of the problems of parenting is to be consistent and true to what you tell the child, especially in the area of discipline. Most parents continue warnings and threats without doing anything about them. On the other extreme are those who exasperate the child with their unpredictable and abusive ways. Paul speaks strongly against this in Ephesians 6.4. Do not spare the rod but use it wisely and sparingly. In the long run discipline and obedience are products of truth (the Word) and love (context of godly relationships) powered by the Holy Spirit. Within a godly and mature relationship, love and respect are earned and not enforced because these are issues of the heart. Your aim should be to lead the child to that maturity.
The primary responsibility for shaping godly influences and disciplining the child rests with the parents. This responsibility cannot be delegated to anyone else, not even grand parents, pastors or schoolteachers. At best they can teach the child and give advice to the parents. Therefore parents cannot blame the school, the church or the society for the rebelliousness of the child. Does this mean that biblical child rearing will always be successful? Ideally and in principle yes, but we must remember that each child is not only a child of the parents but also an individual created in the image of God with his own free will and the power to accept or reject the truth (Proverbs. 20:11).
So what do you do with the rebellious child? In many a case the child will be a reflection of his confused and rebellious parents who cannot agree on issues related to the headship, roles of father and mother and biblical ways of raising children. The first step therefore is to look at the relationship between the parents and see how they submit to God, to each other and others. Have they committed the child’s future into the Lords hand or are they using worldly ways to manipulate and control the child? Is Christ the Lord of the family or is it money or any other worldly values that rule the home? Does the parent realize that God uses our children to minister to us by teaching us patience, sacrifice and forgiveness as we deal with them? Do they have peace in the sovereignty of God and trust in Him for his ways and time in dealing with individuals? Above all do they know that their greatest ministry is to teach the child godliness and lead her to the creator God through Christ, which is the essence of the OT law?