Preventing a Generation Gap in Your Home
“Train up a boy according to the way for him: even when he grows old he will not turn aside from it.”—Prov. 22:6.
1, 2. (a) Who cannot escape a share of the blame for the generation gap, and why? (b) What comment has been made about many of today’s youths?
ADULTS today cannot escape their share of blame for the worldwide generation gap. Many parents, for example, have shown an overly permissive attitude toward their children, with bad results. (Prov. 29:15) Not only has there been a resultant generation gap, but young people who “have gone their own way” have often made a mess of their lives. In fact, we now live in what has been called “the Age of the Slob.” Recently, Theodore M. Black, a member of the New York State Board of Regents, while discussing Regents examinations as yardsticks for measuring educational accomplishment, expressed this thought:
2 “At least in part because of our own negligence and permissiveness we find ourselves living in what I am compelled to label the Age of the Slob—a time when slovenliness in personal hygiene, appearance, speech and habits, immorality and obscenity publicly flaunted, a slothful disinterested shoddiness in the performance of one’s tasks and a monumental self-centeredness which manifests itself not merely in discourtesy but in a churlish disregard of the rights of others and the niceties of human relationships in a truly civilized society—all seem to be the order of the day.”—New York Times, June 24, 1972.
3. If a child is to grow up with fine Christian qualities, what must the parents do, and when?
3 Parents who care about their children do not want them to grow up that way. But if a child is to grow up with high moral standards, showing Christian qualities, including industriousness, kindness, goodness and love, the Christian parent cannot wait till the child is old enough to go to school to train him in the right way—God’s way. No, but as was true with the young Christian man Timothy, so it is advisable today. Of him, the apostle Paul said: “From infancy you have known the holy writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through the faith in connection with Christ Jesus.” (2 Tim. 3:15) It is important to start training children, then, when they are infants. Godly principles are not born into children. Instead, “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) From an early age they need proper training and discipline to counteract wrong tendencies.
4, 5. (a) What fine counsel does Proverbs 22:6 give? (b) When there are exceptions to what is stated in God’s Word, why does this not nullify the scripture?
4 That is why the Bible counsels: “Train up a boy according to the way for him; even when he grows old he will not turn aside from it.” (Prov. 22:6) Or as the New English Bible renders that verse: “Start a boy on the right road, and even in old age he will not leave it.” Another translation of this verse reads: “Educate a child according to his life requirements; even when he is old he will not veer from it.”—The New Berkeley Version.
5 However, some parents might say: “I know of children who were trained in the Bible’s ways, but they turned out bad.” Does the deviation of some youths from God’s truths nullify the scripture? No! What the Bible has stated at Proverbs 22:6 is a general rule. There are exceptions, just as there are exceptions to what is stated at Proverbs 15:1: “An answer, when mild, turns away rage, but a word causing pain makes anger to come up.” This is not always true; sometimes a person will continue in his angry way no matter how mild our answer might be. But the rule is a good one and brings excellent results in the majority of cases.
6, 7. Why is early training of children so vital, and with what likely result?
6 The general rule applies: there is great benefit in training up a boy or girl in Jehovah’s ways from infancy. Early training is vital, because the first four or five years of a child’s life are crucial ones. During this time his mental patterns and abilities are becoming established. Says Dr. Joseph M. Hunt of the University of Illinois: “It is during the first four or five years of life that a child’s development is most rapid and most subject to modification. During this period a child acquires the abilities on which his later abilities will be based. Perhaps 20 percent of those basic abilities are developed before his first birthday, perhaps half before he reaches four.”
7 Taking the time, then, to instill godly principles into young children is vital. The results will be that, if the child has a good heart, he will go in the right way when older. He is helped to avoid being a victim of the widespread generation gap.—Eph. 6:4; Deut. 6:6, 7.
KEEP THE CHANNEL OF COMMUNICATION OPEN
8. What can parents do to establish and maintain the channel of communication with their children?
8 There are many things that parents can do to establish and maintain the channel of communication with their children. Generally, family ties are stronger if parents provide close personal supervision, instead of relying largely on training from schools, relatives, nurses, and so forth. It is important to begin as early as possible to talk freely with a child. Equally important is the need to answer a child’s questions, especially from God’s Word the Bible, when that is possible. (2 Tim. 3:16, 17) This requires listening with genuine regard to what a youngster has to say. So you parents need to learn to listen. Find out what your child’s problems are. Never think that his problems are too trifling for you to bother with.
9, 10. (a) How can a youngster be prepared to face life realistically? (b) How can parents encourage their children and maintain free communication?
9 Communication is maintained better when parents keep in mind that children are not perfect, even as they themselves are not perfect. In fact, a youngster has to be prepared for imperfections—in himself, in his family, and in others. So it is well to bring up a child with full realization that he will make mistakes. This is unavoidable in imperfection and in this system of things. (Ps. 51:5; Rom. 3:23; Jas. 3:2) But parents can encourage their child to keep on improving, and to keep working at cultivating Christian qualities. (Col. 3:12-15) Give credit and praise when such are due.
10 To facilitate free communication between parents and children, it is beneficial for the family to share meals together rather than developing the habit of eating separately. Regular conversing at meals improves family communication.
11. What can parents do to keep the channel of communication open and to prevent children from becoming self-centered?
11 Parents need to express and encourage continuing love. The strong bond of love will unite Christian families. (Eph. 5:25; Titus 2:4) With love the channel of communication remains open. Sometimes children become self-centered if the parents are always speaking critically of others, downgrading others, or digging up what is bad. (Prov. 12:18; 16:27) But parents who smooth over the foibles and faults of others, and who take a kind, loving attitude, help their children to be loving and forgiving, and to take an interest in other people. (Eph. 4:32) When parents show hospitality, even asking their children, “What can we do for So and So?” they are not only building up the joy of giving but also keeping open the channel of communication, so necessary in preventing a generation gap. If parents learn God’s truth when the children are in the teens, a steady effort will help to reopen the lines of communication.
UNFAVORABLE COMPARISONS TEND TO BE SELF-DEFEATING
12, 13. What comments have some young people made when discussing their problems in communicating with their parents?
12 It is interesting to note what young people say when there are group discussions of their problems in communicating with their parents. One teen-age girl revealed: “My sister’s the type that is always volunteering to help. Honestly—she likes housework. Then my mother says to me, ‘Look how much your sister does. Why can’t you be like her?’” This teen-age girl found such comparisons to be discouraging and hampered communication with her parents.
13 Another girl commented: “It isn’t fair. I’ll carry out the trash and do the dishes and straighten my room, and the next day my mother says, ‘Good grief, the dog does more around here than you do.’ Other kids get compared to their brothers and sisters, but I even get compared to the dog.”
14. (a) When trying to encourage their children, what might parents forget at times? (b) How do teen-agers in school generally respond to unfavorable comparisons?
14 Most parents, of course, know that children in the same family will differ in likes and dislikes and in personalities and qualities. Yet at times, especially when under pressure, parents may forget that very thing, as they try to motivate one youth to imitate others whose behavior is more desirable in a certain respect. But such efforts are likely to be self-defeating. Says the volume Today’s Teen-Agers: “Teachers have found that unfavorable comparisons tend to discourage rather than inspire students in the classroom.”
15-18. (a) How might parents benefit from the example of elders in the Christian congregation and from the viewpoint expressed by Jesus as recorded at Matthew 13:23? (b) To whom as examples are all in the Christian congregation encouraged to look? (c) So, how should Christian parents want to treat their children?
15 Parents do well to imitate the elders in the Christian congregation who always endeavor to apply Bible principles. These older men know how unwise it would be to compare one Christian to another, or to ask a person: “Why can’t you do more? Brother So and So, who has more responsibilities than you, does this and this.” Would such a comparison inspire any Christian? Or would it discourage?
16 And what if such unfavorable comparisons were made publicly, in the hearing of others? Would not this have a doubly discouraging effect, proving to be utterly self-defeating as a means for encouraging someone?
17 Elders in the Christian congregation do not make such comparisons. They know that the Lord Jesus Christ spoke favorably of those Christians sharing the good news of God’s Word, whether thirtyfold, sixtyfold or a hundredfold. (Matt. 13:23) Moreover, in the Christian congregation, elders encourage the congregation to “become imitators of God, as beloved children,” also to be imitators of Christ, and to imitate fellow Christians only as they imitate Christ. (Eph. 5:1; 1 Cor. 11:1) From this we see that the ones we should look to and measure ourselves with should be Jehovah God and the Lord Jesus Christ. The faithful example of fellow Christians can encourage us, but comparisons with other Christians are not to be used to make us think we are inferior to or better than others. (2 Cor. 10:12; Gal. 6:4) We look to the perfect examples to imitate.
18 So, since it has proved unwise in the Christian congregation, as well as in worldly schoolrooms, to make unfavorable comparisons rather than treating all as individuals, Christian parents who want to avoid a generation gap do well to think twice before using such comparisons.
SPEND TIME WITH YOUR CHILDREN
19-21. Why is it so important for parents to show loving concern for their children by spending time with them, and what have some authorities said about the consequences of parental neglect?
19 Parents need to show loving concern for their children. They cannot expect their children to turn out well if they themselves are lovers of pleasures or of wealth more than lovers of their own children. (1 Tim. 6:9, 10) Thus, regarding a teenager who became a victim of the generation gap and who went wrong, we are told: “Leon was alienated from his parents, both of whom worked and who were too busy to give him the attention he craved.”
20 Today’s way of life with its many pressures and distractions makes it hard for parents to spend time with their children. But time has to be spent. Professor Urie Bronfenbrenner in the book Two Worlds of Childhood: U.S. and U.S.S.R. contends that too many parents have withdrawn from the lives of their children, leaving a moral vacuum that is filled by their peers and television. Writes Dr. Bronfenbrenner:
“We are experiencing a breakdown in the process of making human beings human. What is needed is a change in our ways of living that will once again bring adults back into the lives of children and children back into the lives of adults. . . . If adults do not once again become involved in the lives of our children, there is trouble ahead.”
21 And McCann wrote in Delinquency—Sickness or Sin?: “The dockets of our juvenile courts . . . reveal in one child after another a common experience: parental indifference, neglect, rejection.”
22. What happened to the sons of a television entertainer when he failed to spend enough time with them, and how did he describe the situation with himself and many fathers?
22 Trouble came to one well-known forty-four-year-old television entertainer whose sons turned to drugs. He explained later to the press: “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. . . . 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. . . . I thought because I was a success at an early age, I knew it all. I knew nothing.”—New York Times, August 1, 1972, p. 26.
23. What did one investigator find as to the consequences of parental indifference?
23 Thus, when children are left on their own and little interest is shown in them and their activities, a generation gap results, with serious consequences. Recently the findings of a veteran San Antonio, Texas, narcotics detective-investigator were made public. After nine months as an undercover agent gathering information, he learned that many young people taking drugs seemed to make no attempt to conceal the fact that they were users of drugs. The conclusion reached by this investigator was that the use of drugs by the young is, to a large degree, the result of parental indifference. He told of young people talking about their parents’ giving them money and then leaving them alone to do as they wished on weekends. “It seems like the kids couldn’t understand why their parents didn’t want to spend time with them,” said the detective-investigator.—San Antonio News, January 28, 1972.
24-26. (a) When might parents advantageously spend time with their children? (b) What principle did God establish in ancient Israel that relates to “little ones” in Christian families today?
24 How important it is, then, for parents to spend time with their children! Spending time together makes communication natural, and helps parents to get the youngsters’ views. Much good results when the father spends time with both sons and daughters in working around the home. Sharing in work, as well as in recreation, trains the family to enjoy things with others, not just pursuing personal interests.
25 And, of course, spending time together in private and in congregational Bible instruction is vital. God established that principle in ancient Israel. He commanded parents, not only to teach children God’s ways at home, but also to take their children with them when going to the assemblies that were held for the purpose of worshiping and praising Jehovah. The divine command through Moses was: Congregate the people, the men and the women and the little ones . . . in order that they may listen and in order that they may learn, as they must fear Jehovah your God and take care to carry out all the words of this law.” The “little ones” were not left at home. Likewise today children need to accompany their parents to attend meetings of the Christian congregation.—Deut. 31:12, 13; Neh. 12:43; Luke 2:41-50; Matt. 19:13, 14.
26 Parents who follow God’s Word have divine wisdom to help them to rear their children, and if they train their children up in the way they should go, spending time with them, teaching them to be imitators of God and of his beloved Son, they will likely succeed.
WATCHING THEIR ASSOCIATION
27-29. (a) What Scriptural principle did the apostle Paul state about association? (b) What is association, and when is it bad?
27 Parents who want their children to avoid being victims of the generation gap, with consequential plunges into the abyss of drug taking or immorality, need to appreciate the importance of watching the young ones’ associations. The Bible clearly states the principle for success: “Do not be misled. Bad associations spoil useful habits.” “Bad company ruins good morals” (Revised Standard Version).—1 Cor. 15:33.
28 What the apostle Paul is warning against here is not mere contact with worldly persons. How so? Well, what is association? The Greek term means “being in company with” or “a having intercourse with.” The English word is derived from a Latin word meaning “joined to, united with,” “joined with, allied.” In other words, you become a companion or an ally of someone whose companionship you are seeking. It is fraternizing, entering into the pursuits and pleasures of those with whom you are associating. This is a bad thing if the association is with worldly persons, since good morals and habits will suffer.
29 Sometimes parents find out in the hard way that watching their children’s association is the key to avoiding heartache. But why learn things in the hard way? Jehovah’s Word contains the guidance that parents need to bring up children successfully.
BLESSINGS FROM RIGHT TRAINING
30. (a) What rewards come to parents who give their children right training from infancy? (b) How is this illustrated by an experience in high school?
30 What rewards there are for parents who train up their children in the way they should go! They attain to great joy and avoid the grief and heartache and shame that are certain to come when a child becomes a victim of the generation gap and goes his own way. (Prov. 17:21; 29:15) During a class discussion of social problems in a girls’ class at high school the matter of the generation gap was introduced. The discussion was one-sided, so the girls were invited to bring their parents at the next session. The parents of a Witness student arranged to be present. Said the father:
“We were the only parents present. Two teachers were also present. The discussion began by the girls’ raising their hands and asking questions when called upon by us. The girls were interested in our attitudes toward discipline, punishment, freedom, recreation, causes for the generation gap, and so forth. Our answers were based on the Bible, to which we referred as the occasion required.
“We pointed out that when a family lives by Bible principles there is no generation gap. The girls appeared to be deeply impressed, and at the end of the forty-minute period asked if we could stay for a second period, which we did.
“It was obvious to the girls that there was no communication gap in our home. After we left, some of the girls commented to our daughter that they wished they could trade parents with her. Many agreed that they would rather live in a home where there was discipline coupled with love than in a home where parents and children could not communicate.”
31. Restate the fine principles that will help parents to prevent a generation gap in their home.
31 Yes, the Bible’s excellent principles furnish the bridge over which parents and children can intercommunicate, while realizing that both adults and teen-agers are children of a Great Father who knows how to discipline in love. So train children from infancy, and do your best to keep the channel of communication open, encouraging them, not by self-defeating unfavorable comparisons, but with the Highest Examples for us to imitate. Spend time with your children, and watch their association. Then the blessings for such right training will be yours, for “the father of a righteous one will without fail be joyful; the one becoming father to a wise one will also rejoice in him. Your father and your mother will rejoice, and she that gave birth to you will be joyful.”—Prov. 23:24, 25.