When Children Become Wayward
A HUSKY teen-ager sits listlessly on a couch in a New York city apartment. He pays no attention to his mother’s repeated urgings to help her with some heavy work. As she keeps on pressuring him, the boy flares up in anger. He rips the telephone off the wall, smashes furniture and breaks the lock off the door leading into the apartment. All the while he screams: “I’m going to kill you!” Finally, the outburst of uncontrollable rage subsides.
This wayward teen-ager has no respect for his father nor for his mother. In fact, he has no regard for any authority as he prowls the streets with other hooligans, carrying an unregistered gun.
Many parents in a similar situation ask: ‘How could this happen? Where did we fail?’
THE VALUE OF PROPER TRAINING
At times parental failure may be involved. If parents are negligent about training their children by word and example, they cannot expect to have good results. The Bible says: “The rod and reproof are what give wisdom; but a boy left on the loose will be causing his mother shame.” (Prov. 29:15) Right training must start as early as possible, from infancy. Because he received early training, David could say in one of his psalms: “Upon you [Jehovah] I have been thrown from the womb; from the belly of my mother you have been my God.” (Ps. 22:10) Similarly, Timothy knew the holy writings “from infancy.” From his earliest recollections in life, he could not think of a time when he had no acquaintance with the Sacred Word.—2 Tim. 3:15.
As children get older, real effort is required to help them to appreciate that obedience to the lofty principles of the Scriptures leads to the very best way of life. Especially is this so in these difficult “last days.” (2 Tim. 3:1, 2) The Bible book of Proverbs can be a real aid to parents in imparting instruction with motivating power. Not only does this book warn against the danger of corrupting associations, sexual immorality, gluttony, alcohol abuse, and the like, but it also provides encouragement to follow a right course. (Prov. 1:10-19; 4:14-27; 5:3-14; 7:1-27; 23:20-35) The kind of positive motivation that parents might include when imparting moral teaching to older children is illustrated in the words of Proverbs 3:1-6:
“My son, my law do not forget, and my commandments may your heart observe, because length of days and years of life and peace will be added to you. May loving-kindness and trueness themselves not leave you. Tie them about your throat. Write them upon the tablet of your heart, and so find favor and good insight in the eyes of God and of earthling man. Trust in Jehovah with all your heart and do not lean upon your own understanding. In all your ways take notice of him, and he himself will make your paths straight.”
WHEN THERE HAS BEEN PARENTAL NEGLECT
Of course, if there has been past neglect or failure, parents may find it extremely difficult and trialsome to provide moral teaching. It may be necessary for parents to explain to their children why they are so concerned about doing what they formerly neglected to do. This may include humbly acknowledging their past failings. Time and patience will then be needed to win the confidence of teen-age sons and daughters, to assure them of genuine parental love and interest. The results at first may be very disappointing, even frustrating. But parents should not be quick to give up, as this would call into question their interest and concern. A teen-ager may reason: ‘If my parents really cared, they would still be trying to help me.’ Hence, when parents permit their initial efforts to be dampened by their children’s unresponsiveness, they may actually contribute toward their sons’ and daughters’ distrust. That is why it is especially important for parents to persevere. The concern of a parent may stir up a child’s conscience, bringing out his better qualities. Marta, who once headed a gang of girls, admitted: “It would hurt me to see my mother worry so much about me, but I would never show it and let her know how I felt.”
A good example will often have a more powerful effect on rebellious children than do many words. While firmness for what is right must be maintained, parents should guard against losing self-control and resorting to screaming or abusive speech. The Scriptures counsel: “Let all malicious bitterness and anger and wrath and screaming and abusive speech be taken away from you along with all badness.”—Eph. 4:31.
Even if child training has been woefully neglected for many years, there may still be hope. A young Mexican relates his own experience:
“At the age of seven, I left my parents. Home became the sidewalk, abandoned automobiles or, at times, railroad freight cars. In association with other youngsters, I began to steal. Many times we would be caught by the police and taken to jail. When asked where our parents were, we would say that we didn’t know. When I was 10, we joined a band of drug smugglers. Many times I was at the point of losing my life. When I was 12, we went to the United States illegally and continued our lawless activities. One day the leader of our gang threatened to kill me for not dividing up the spoils from a robbery that I had committed. I was beaten up, and he took the 28,000.00 pesos from me.
“I was very sad and wanted to go back home or to commit suicide. Then I remembered my grandmother who lived in Ciudad Juárez, but I did not know where. I started to look for her. When I finally found her, she was getting ready to attend an assembly of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and she invited me to accompany her.”
Based on what this boy heard at the assembly, he began to think seriously about his life. He began to study the Bible and, to the joy of his parents, reformed and returned home.
REBELLION DESPITE GOOD TRAINING
But what if children become wayward despite good training? Parents can take comfort in the fact that they were conscientious in discharging their responsibilities. They can also entertain the hope that in the future the efforts of proper training will bring straying children back to their senses. This hope can be very encouraging.
Proper training definitely can have a lasting impact on children. The Bible states: “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) While as a general rule properly trained children do not become debauched persons, some do go astray but then come to their senses. Their experience may be similar to that of the prodigal son in an illustration that Jesus Christ gave. We read:
“A certain man had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the part of the property that falls to my share. ‘. . . Later, after not many days, the younger son gathered all things together and traveled abroad into a distant country, and there squandered his property by living a debauched life. When he had spent everything, a severe famine occurred throughout that country, and he started to be in need. He even went and attached himself to one of the citizens of that country, and he sent him into his fields to herd swine. And he used to desire to be filled with the carob pods which the swine were eating, and no one would give him anything. When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many hired men of my father are abounding with bread, while I am perishing here from famine! I will rise and journey to my father and say to him: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Make me as one of your hired men.”’”—Luke 15:11-19.
MAINTAINING THE RIGHT ATTITUDE
How did the father react? Since he had not begun to harbor ill will toward his son, he responded with compassion and tender affection. Jesus’ illustration continues:
“While he was yet a long way off, his father caught sight of him and was moved with pity, and he ran and fell upon his neck and tenderly kissed him. Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Make me as one of your hired men.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quick! bring out a robe, the best one, and clothe him with it, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fattened young bull, slaughter it and let us eat and enjoy ourselves, because this my son was dead and came to life again; he was lost and was found.’ And they started to enjoy themselves.”—Luke 15:20-24.
In harmony with the spirit of this illustration, parents need to guard against becoming bitter and callous toward a wayward son or daughter. Otherwise, it may be very hard for a child to change, as did the prodigal son of Jesus’ illustration.
The good effect of love and kindness is well illustrated in the case of a girl in Ohio whose parents are Jehovah’s Witnesses. Believing that she was not allowed enough freedom, 15-year-old Vickie began to rebel against parental authority. Finally, at the age of 17, she moved into her own apartment in a town where her mother’s family lived. While these relatives did not condone what Vickie was doing, they tried to encourage her. What finally happened? The girl relates:
“I was very depressed, almost to the point of committing suicide, and was disgusted with the world and people in it. So I moved in with my mother’s family. They never berated me or made me uncomfortable. I was very apprehensive about attending meetings at the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses, but I did. The love and kindness that everyone showed was overwhelming. They’ll never realize how much I appreciated it, and how much easier they made it for me to abandon my wrong way of life.”
So, when children become wayward, parents should not be quick to give up hope. While hating badness, they should avoid becoming hard and embittered toward their children. Most importantly, parents should strive to set a fine example and to keep their faith in God strong.
This is what King David did. He suffered a great deal on account of family problems. One of his sons turned completely against him, seeking both his throne and his life. But David did not let this discourage him from continuing to serve God. In fact, when old and feeble, he encouraged his son Solomon: “Know the God of your father and serve him with a complete heart and with a delightful soul; for all hearts Jehovah is searching, and every inclination of the thoughts he is discerning. If you search for him, he will let himself be found by you; but if you leave him, he will cast you off forever.”—1 Chron. 28:9.
Even if one’s own children were to become disloyal, Jehovah God would never abandon his devoted servants. As the Most High sustained David in time of trial and grief, so he will strengthen his people today to bear distress, including the pain resulting when children become delinquent. In fact, if all bonds of natural affection were to break down, the individual would still not be alone, hopelessly forsaken. Said David: “In case my own father and my own mother did leave me, even Jehovah himself would take me up.”—Ps. 27:10.