Train children in the right way, and when old, they will not stray. Proverbs 22:6 (NRSV)
Watching parents raise their children has been interesting, of a growing concern and a focus of recent prayer for me. Let me say from the beginning that my children (in their 30’s) and their generation have issues to address with their children that my parents did not have with my generation. Social media as well as the general media (news, music, movies) have put a spin on sex, drugs and behavior so that what my generation would have only done in secret and with feelings of guilt, my grandchildren are being told is really normal and should be embraced while ignoring the archaic thinking of previous centuries.
More than ever parents must do more than “preach” to their children. They must walk what they talk and keep alert for warnings in behavior and opportunities to discuss, even at a very young age; to discuss with specific examples intelligent and moral behavior. Beliefs are no longer accepted because the pastor/priest/parent says so but because the parent/mentor has walked through life and its challenges utilizing that belief system and are able to share their testimony of victory. Beliefs must be more than theology. They must incorporate an actual way of life.
Moral Code and Personal Integrity. Rarely does a day pass without a report of a government official, prominent religious leader, or local personage who is caught in some illegal act or illicit affair. Children write school assignments proclaiming their need for a hero. Parents and grandparents should be the first hero their child identifies. Heroes are often placed on pedestals. However personally undeserving, a hero has an opportunity to define, teach and be an active example of personal integrity.
As a Christian, I have a standard in Jesus Christ. If I claim to be His disciple and encourage my children and grandchildren in that life commitment, then my example must be transparent with victories and flaws. Teaching my children Jesus’ Way must be more than “you shall.” It must also be “I’m sorry” and “I don’t know. Let’s see what God’s Word says and ask Him for help.” Children trust what is honest and real.
Choices and Consequences. Child behavior experts and psychologists tell us that by age five, basic behavior has been imprinted into a child and changing that imprint is difficult. In other words, a child’s concept of right and wrong has been established before he/she enters school. Who has the most influence from birth to five years?
I believe the hardest tool to use as a parent is consistency. Boundaries for behavior begin in the first two years when the child’s demands are most numerous and parents, especially new parents, are most overwhelmed by this life change. I have yet to meet a first time parent who anticipated how their lives were going to be totally redefined by a child.
A parent setting a consistent bedtime encounters such “glitches” as visitors who want to play and respiratory infections and stomach upsets that require flexibility. The child decides to verbalize their disagreement with the return to a routine bedtime and the parent feels too tired to engage in a constructive battle and so gives in, looking at the immediate result and losing sight of the long term consequence. It is much easier to teach a two year old the consequence of rebellion over bedtime than a sixteen year old the consequence of rebellion over curfew.
Service; Paying if Forward. This principle begins as we teach our child to “share.” It is the beginning of learning that the world does not exist for individual gain and pleasure. We have responsibilities to each other and the world we inhabit. Giving to others is its own reward and does not require external applause or awards. For the Christian, it is expressing love for God through our love and service to others, especially those weaker and unnoticed by the world at large.
Paul said I should not “exasperate” my children but instruct them in God’s ways (Ephesians 6:4). Do not set myself as the perfect example but point to Jesus and teach in such a way that the child knows that I, too, am following Jesus and learning each day. A trainer works out with their students, sharing in the sweat and aching muscles; sharing in the victory of a life well lived.
Turn Around written by Harry Belafonte & sung by The Brothers Four