What Can We Do with Our Children?
THAT is what millions of parents are asking. They are anxious about their young ones’ behavior. For example, according to statistics cited by McCall’s magazine, “52 percent of America’s teen-agers are engaging in premarital sexual activity.”
To prevent pregnancies, some parents are giving their daughters contraceptives. Perhaps you disagree with that procedure. But what is the answer?
“By their words and actions, many fathers and mothers make it clear that they are almost paralyzed by uncertainty,” noted a member of the editorial board of the New York Times.
Why the Uncertainty?
Largely responsible is the advice given by many worldly authorities. In recent years these have said: “The child should not do anything until he comes to the opinion—his own opinion—that it should be done.” “In an effective plan of discipline there is no place for corporal punishment.” Thus old methods of discipline have been replaced with new ones.
Attitudes regarding moral behavior have also changed. For example, Parents’ Magazine of December 1973 considers the question of premarital sex for youths. It recommends to parents a letter by Deane William Ferm, chaplain of Mount Holyoke College, to his daughter. The clergyman advised her:
“I suggest you limit intercourse to the marriage promise rather than the marriage ceremony. It is naive to think that the wedding night should mark a radical change in the physical intimacy between two loved ones. . . .
“The value of the so-called ‘new morality’ is that you yourself must decide on the responsible thing to do. . . .
“You may think it quite proper to engage in intercourse under circumstances beyond our suggested limits. If you do so decide . . . we would not want you to feel guilty. . . . Do not feel ashamed that you have acted contrary to what society (often hypocritically) demands, or to what your church and parents have suggested.”
When that kind of advice by a prominent clergyman is thus endorsed, what is the effect? Why, many parents follow the advice, and some even arrange to make fornication convenient for their young.
The bad fruits are all too apparent—venereal disease, fear of pregnancy, illegitimate children, unwed mothers, heartbreak, clandestine abortions and plagued consciences. Suicides of youths have skyrocketed, and emotional disorders are also increasing.
How, then, can parents successfully handle problems with their children?
Source of Successful Advice
It is by applying Bible counsel. The Bible takes a firm stand as to premarital sex. “Abstain from fornication,” it says. “Let fornication . . . not even be mentioned among you.”—1 Thess. 4:3; Eph. 5:3.
Some parents may object, saying, ‘Premarital sex is a way of life with most young people.’ Yet is that a valid reason to excuse it? If most people steal, cheat or murder, should these practices also be condoned? No reasonable person would say so. Parents need to take a firm stand to protect their children against wrong practices.
Reason with Your Children
But it is not enough simply to tell youngsters: ‘I don’t want you to commit fornication, because it is wrong.’ They need to be shown that it is their Creator, Almighty God, who says premarital sex is wrong. But even this often does not satisfy. Children also need to be helped to see why they should heed God’s prohibition of premarital sex, and how obeying his law will benefit them.
For example, you might draw your youngster’s attention to the truly miraculous process of reproduction in which one fertilized cell divides and multiplies according to a prearranged plan to become a human baby, and ask: ‘Don’t you think that the One who designed this marvelous reproductive process knows best how humans should use their God-given powers of reproduction?’ (Ps. 139:13-17) Or you could ask: ‘Do you think that our grand Creator would make a law to rob us of enjoyment in life? Rather, wouldn’t obedience to his laws enhance our happiness?’
Such questions can start your child reasoning on God’s law governing the use of his reproductive organs. Welcome your child’s views. If they are not what you desire them to be, do not get angry. If a child is afraid of being severely criticized whenever he tells his parents something, he may simply keep quiet. Then how will you know what he is thinking, so that you can help him?
So be open and honest. Perhaps you once had similar views or did the same things. It is sometimes helpful to admit this. Try to understand that your child’s generation has deviated a long way from the righteous principles in the Bible, and yet endeavor to show him why his generation’s immoral practices are unwise.
Perhaps you can draw your child’s attention to specific examples (and there are many sad cases around us) of where sexual immorality has led to illegitimate births, venereal diseases or other troubles. Also, you might point out the benefits enjoyed by those who have conformed to God’s law. In this way the child is helped to see the reasonableness and correctness of what the Bible says. And he may be moved to want to obey it.
Guidelines and Discipline
Yet children need more than talk. They need definite guidelines to help them to conform to Bible requirements. Also, they need discipline administered in love when these guidelines are overstepped.
Contrary to popular opinion, children generally appreciate it when their parents set reasonable restrictions on their activities. It gives them a sense of security to know that there are limits within which they are expected to remain. Some of them may complain, but they learn to respect and love parents who show genuine concern for their well-being.
On the other hand, parents who allow their children freedom to do whatever they please are frequently disappointed and shocked. Their young ones may, in time, turn on them, as did one young girl. After finally confessing to being pregnant, she angrily said: “Why didn’t you stop me? You knew what was going on. You let me stay over there at Jimmy’s when his mother and father were away. You just didn’t care what I did.”
Thus parents need to show that they care about their children by disciplining them when they step out of line. It is as the inspired Bible proverb says: “Foolishness is tied up with the heart of a boy; the rod of discipline is what will remove it far from him.”—Prov. 22:15.
Discipline may need to take the form of more than verbal correction. This is because, as the Bible says, often one is not “corrected by mere words, for he understands but he is paying no heed.” (Prov. 29:19) So, then, God’s Word encourages: “Do not hold back discipline from the mere boy. In case you beat him with the rod, he will not die. With the rod you yourself should beat him, that you may deliver his very soul from Sheol [the grave] itself.”—Prov. 23:13, 14.
The very life of the child is at stake! If he is allowed to pursue a wrong course, it will lead to his own unhappiness and eventual death outside God’s favor. Thus the Bible says: “The one holding back his rod is hating his son, but the one loving him is he that does look for him with discipline.”—Prov. 13:24.
Yes, it shows real love on the part of a parent to do whatever he can to correct his child, including administering a good spanking. The rejection by worldly authorities of this counsel of God regarding discipline has led only to trouble in family life.—Prov. 29:15.
However, talking to a child about God’s law, setting guidelines and providing discipline may all be ineffective if parents fail in another important respect.
Proper Example Vital
Parents also need to set a good example. This is because children are more inclined to follow what you do than what you say. And when there is a discrepancy between the two, young ones are quick to detect it. In fact, their open flouting of sexual morality is said to be a rebellion against hypocrisy. For, as psychiatrists point out: “So many adults they know practice adultery but indulge in sanctimonious preaching.”
The same holds true in matters other than sexual behavior. For example, children also are rebelling against parents’ hypocrisy in connection with drugs. Dr. Robert E. Gould, as head of a psychiatric division at New York city’s Bellevue Hospital, explains: “Adolescents are emulating parents. There is not a home I know of where parents don’t either drink or smoke cigarettes, have barbiturates to go to sleep, tranquilizers to get through the day—not aspirin, but mood-changing drugs.”
So, if you want your children to live respectable, decent lives, then you yourself must live that way. If your example is not good, it can nullify all the good things you say.
Show that You Love Them
Perhaps the most important factor in handling problems with children successfully is that you show that you love them. And a principal way to do this is by spending time with them. Not just time when you talk with them about their conduct, or discipline them, but time when you really get to know each other. Time spent eating together, worshiping God together, playing together, getting ready for bed at night—all this time spent with your children is important.
This is where many parents fail. Alan King, a prominent entertainer, who traveled a lot when his children were young, admitted he had failed. He observed:
“The average father doesn’t lead my life, but it’s the same thing. He goes to work, comes home, says he doesn’t want to hear about the little problems because he’s had a tough day at the office, puts on the television and then goes to bed. He’s on the road, too!
“I see successful men running companies with hundreds of men; they know how to deal with every situation, how to discipline and reward in the business world. But the biggest business they are running is their family and they fail it.”
The reason why is that they have neglected God’s counsel. His Word says: “These words that I am commanding . . . you must inculcate them in your son and speak of them when you sit in your house and when you walk on the road and when you lie down and when you get up.” (Deut. 6:6, 7) A parent must spend time with his child to do this. Also, a parent must first learn “these words” of instruction from God himself so that he can teach them to his children.
Really, applying the counsel in God’s Word is the key to successful family living. But how can one learn what the Bible says about building a happy family life?
Worldly authorities, including the religious leaders of Christendom, certainly do not have the answers. These have clearly abandoned God’s counsel and have influenced the majority of mankind to do likewise. Their teachings have contributed to the terrible breakdown in the family today. But there is help available for those who want it.
Jehovah’s witnesses are devoted to helping people to learn the teachings of God’s Word. They provide this instruction free of charge to those who desire it. A qualified minister of Jehovah’s witnesses will be happy to consider with you further details as to what the Bible says on the subject of building a happy family life. To arrange for this, simply write the publishers of this magazine or contact Jehovah’s witnesses locally.