Parents, Reach Your Child’s Heart
“My son, if your heart has become wise, my heart will rejoice, even mine.”—Prov. 23:15.
1, 2. (a) What is the desire of Christian parents, but how did one father feel? (b) In child training, what needs to be reached, and why?
CHRISTIAN parents yearn to protect their children from devastating moral pitfalls. No doubt you, if you are a parent, share the same apprehension as that of a Christian father with four teenagers who wrote: “The morals that our young ones are faced with keep getting worse, and sometimes it is hard to keep up with each new approach the world takes. My constant prayer is to be able to help them. I love them so much.”
2 Yet, why is it that at times, even after being taken to religious meetings and being taught Bible morality, a child may still become involved in sexual immorality? Though head learning is important the heart plays a vital role, especially with regard to morals. What can a parent do to reach a child’s heart so that it becomes wise’?—Prov. 4:23; 23:15.
DRAW UP COUNSEL OUT OF THE HEART
3. What does Proverbs 20:5 mean, and what action does this require of parents?
3 Before you can reach the heart, you have to find out, to some extent, what is in it. “Counsel [one’s real purpose or deeply rooted intentions*] in the heart of a man is as deep waters, but the man of discernment is one that will draw it up.” (Prov. 20:5) The real feelings in the heart of a child are like waters at the bottom of a deep well. In Bible times, some well openings were over 100 feet (30 m) down, and people had to walk down stairs to “draw up” the waters. It was a real task! To “draw up” your own child’s intentions may be just as difficult. Doing this takes empathy and keen observation. It may require the skillful use of questions, patience—sometimes your being willing to talk with the child for hours before his real feelings surface. By reminding the child that you went through the same period, and that you too are imperfect, and by creating opportunities so that the child can be alone with you at times, you will make it easier for him to open up.—Job 33:5-7.
4. According to Proverbs 12:18, what kind of speech can damage communication?
4 Yet a ‘thoughtless’ word or statement can be devastating. Some speak thoughtlessly, “as with the stabs of a sword.” Their words hurt and cause separation. So strive to be “cool of spirit” as you really listen. Perhaps you can recall when someone “talked down” to you or made fun of your feelings. Perhaps he said, ‘You know better than that!’ Did you yearn to confide in that person again?—Prov. 12:18; 17:27.
5. (a) What kind of instruction does a teenager need? (b) Are most parents providing such instructions?
5 When a child reaches his teens, his sexual desires become very strong. The youngster needs to talk with someone who can explain what is happening to his body and can answer an endless list of very delicate and personal questions. Yet in a survey taken of 1,400 parents with adolescent children, 92 percent never discussed sexual behavior with their children. The background of the parents, the customs of the land, or the belief that such discussion is not necessary, at times hinders even Christian parents from showing such discerning care. Just how important are such discussions?
6, 7. How important is it that parents discuss sexual behavior with their children?
6 Well, after interviewing a number of families, one Christian elder concluded: “It’s interesting how a pattern is followed. For parents who really dealt with sex early and worked hard at keeping in close communication with their children, the results were good. For those who, for whatever reason, did not deal early with the problem, the results usually were bad.”
7 The benefits from such discussion are many. First, it can shield the child’s mind from the false, dirty information he will later hear. Second, it can build respect for parents and confidence in them and lay a common ground of communication that will carry over into puberty. And third, it can make it easier for your child to discuss the most intimate matters with you. Still, many parents wonder just how to go about discussing this somewhat embarrassing subject.
INSTRUCT THE HEART
8. How early should discussions about sex begin?
8 The value of starting to instruct the child at a young age cannot be overemphasized. A number of 10- and 11-year-olds have even become pregnant. Some researchers urge that communication about sex be firmly established before the child is six. Otherwise it may never be achieved. Often, just frankly and unashamedly answering a young child’s questions in this regard is sufficient.* However, a teenager needs instruction on how to control such desires. To reach the heart, the instruction must come across as friendly help, not as an accusation.
9. What should a parent try to put into a child’s heart, and why?
9 Jesus said: “A good man brings forth good out of the good treasure of his heart.” (Luke 6:45) So, to reach your child’s heart requires that you put into that young heart precious things—things that he or she will respond to emotionally and will cherish. Why? So that “good things” will come out of that heart.—Matt. 12:34, 35.
10, 11. From the examples in the book of Proverbs, what can be learned about how to reach your child’s heart during a discussion on sexual morality?
10 The instruction given about this subject in the Proverbs furnishes a good example for parents. It treats sexual behavior frankly and yet with dignity. Notice the balanced approach of Pr chapter five. The instructor or parent realistically discusses the pleasure of sex relations and especially the need to avoid sexual immorality. The prostitute’s lips seem to ‘drip with honey’ as she seeks to entice a man. Ah, but the aftereffects—“as bitter as wormwood” and “as sharp as a two-edged sword”! (Pr 5 Vss. 3, 4) Then, the Biblical instructor touches a tender spot by showing the young man how he can lose his “dignity” by such conduct. (Pr 5 Vs. 9) Yet this is not an ‘all-sex-is-sin’ discussion. What a beautiful picture he paints of sexual relations within marriage.—Pr 5 Vss. 15-19.
11 The parent does not accuse or berate the young man. In Proverbs chapter seven, he relates others’ experiences and uses straightforward terms. (Prov. 7:6, 7, 13, 17, 18) The instructor uses vivid illustrations—a passionate man that is enticed by a harlot is likened to a bull going to the slaughter, and an “arrow cleaves open his liver.” (Prov. 7:22, 23) How could a youth ever forget such imagery! Such a warning example stored in the heart will help the youth to cope with temptation. The parent did not just say that sexual immorality was wrong, but told why, explaining the effects and showing how easily the young person could get involved.
12, 13. (a) What are some occasions when a parent can discuss sexual behavior with his or her child? (b) Have you found other times that are convenient? (c) For a child to be moral, is it enough just to put good instruction into his heart?
12 Many Christian parents have had similar discussions. They have had them on numerous occasions when the subject could be approached in a natural, informal way. Some of these opportunities were during long walks, when talking about some incident illustrating the value of proper morals, after such material was considered during congregational meetings, or when their own family’s spiritual discussions treated the subject. Many made use of the book Your Youth—Getting the Best out of It* to help them. Such discussion was not always easy, but genuine love for the child motivated the parents. As one mother of five admitted: “I forced myself to talk about it until finally I was no longer uncomfortable, nor was the child.” Do not let your child suffer untold heartache because of a lack of “good instruction” in this most delicate area.—Prov. 4:2.
13 Yet, despite all the good instruction that can be put into a child’s heart, foolishness is also deeply ingrained there because of inherited sinfulness.—Ps. 51:5.
DISCIPLINE REFINES THE HEART
14. What is discipline, and why is it so important?
14 What can drive foolishness out of the young heart? “The rod of discipline,” according to Proverbs 22:15. Discipline is training that molds or corrects. It is firmness with understanding; so it does not smother or ‘irritate’ a child with unreasonable restrictions. (Eph. 6:4) Discipline is vital when your child forms an interest in the opposite sex. To allow a couple to keep company when either is too young to marry is to invite disaster.
15. (a) What situation is perplexing to many parents? (b) What did the brothers of the Shulammite maiden do when she and her boyfriend wanted to be together alone?
15 But many parents ask, ‘What can you do when they want to be together?’ Apparently under the direction or with the approval of their parents, when the brothers of the Shulammite maiden discovered that the shepherd boy wanted to take their sister alone on a walk in a secluded mountain spot, they put a stop to it! They gave her work to occupy her time and to keep the couple separated. Though they trusted her, they knew the power of temptation. Did this ruin the girl’s life? To the contrary, it helped the couple remain chaste till they later married.—Song of Sol. 1:6; 2:8-15.
16. What have some parents done to protect the hearts of their children?
16 Similar firmness, along with the providing of activities to keep the child’s mind occupied, is needed today. In this regard, parents must use genuine discernment and godly wisdom. (Prov. 24:3) It is extremely difficult for parents to restrain a child’s feelings once it becomes emotionally involved. Before allowing their child to date (where this is socially acceptable), Christian parents would have to consider the child’s age, degree of emotional maturity and spiritual progress, who it is the child wishes to date and what their activities will be. One mother whose 19-year-old daughter was disfellowshiped for immorality was asked what she felt she would have done differently in rearing her child. She replied: “I would never have let her become involved with the opposite sex in a romantic relationship while she was in her early teens. I would not have assumed she was so strong that she could deal with her problem.”
17, 18. (a) Should a couple who are pursuing marriage be resentful when a parent or someone under that one’s direction acts as a chaperone? (b) What did one young man learn the hard way?
17 Some parents have sat down with the young couple and explained why they cannot approve of their dating. By discussing the matter with the parents of the other child, additional support may be gained. One Christian parent with four children said: “A number of parents think that young boy-girl relationships are ‘cute’ and encourage them, as well as letting groups of teenagers go out with no adult supervision. What we see is ‘pairing off,’ immorality and early marriages. We encourage our children to develop hobbies and other physical activities such as skating and bicycling that they can do alone, with the family, or with others of the same sex.”
18 Even when the couple is old enough to court, help them by arranging a chaperone. An engaged Christian couple who were soon to be married let their guard down and engaged in “uncleanness.” (Gal. 5:19) Looking back, the young man admitted: “Most of the time we had a chaperone. But those few times we didn’t hurt us.” Other youngsters later thanked their parents for being strict and carefully monitoring their entertainment, for they remained chaste and entered marriage with no regrets or bad memories. If your child’s intentions are honorable, he should not resent your godly discipline, for it is “the way of life.”—Prov. 6:23.
HELP CHILD BUILD RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD
19. (a) What is your child’s greatest protection against immorality, and what will help it to develop that? (b) What questions can parents ask about their own example?
19 The greatest protection against immorality is for your child to develop a personal intimate relationship with Jehovah. Even though this is what the child itself must do, a parent can help. First of all, your own example of devotion will give a living pattern to be imitated. Those who became Christians in first-century Thessalonica saw “what sort of men” Paul and his companions were and “became imitators,” developing similar “strong conviction.” (1 Thess. 1:4-6) What ‘sort of person’ do your children see in you? Do they see your “strong conviction,” noting that you are building your entire life around your devotion to God and are making sacrifices for his worship? Do they see your strong dislike of immorality by your not being entertained by what is morally corrupt? Do they see an example of love in the way you treat your mate or deal with others? Do they hear you talk about Jehovah in a way that clearly shows he is real to you? Such an example will be an incentive for the child to make sacrifices to keep Jehovah’s law. Your child will see that doing so is important.
20. What can destroy the effect of your good training?
20 Also, by closely guarding your children’s association and selecting for them associates showing spiritual “strong conviction,” you will enhance your efforts. Nothing can destroy your work faster than bad associates for them—even if these are found within the Christian congregation. Such bad associates can ruin your child’s spirituality and cause a generation gap.—Prov. 13:20; Jude 3, 4, 12, 16, 19.
21. (a) According to 1 John 2:14, what gives spiritual strength and what responsibility does this place on parents? (b) What suggestions do you have to keep such studies regular and interesting?
21 As a parent, you must be convinced of the power of God’s Word, the Bible. The apostle John said that the spiritually strong “young men” in the congregation to which he wrote had “conquered the wicked one” because ‘the word of God remained in them.’ (1 John 2:14) Hence in addition to promoting a close family spirit and setting a good example, godly parents should arrange for the Word of God to be studied regularly by the family so that its message sinks deeply into a youngster’s heart. One couple painfully watched two of their three children turn bad during teenage years. The father, who had reared them in a Christian home from infancy, admitted: “If I had the chance to do it over again, there would be more regular family Bible study. Ours was always ‘hit and miss.’ I know a regular study would have pulled us together more as a family and strengthened them much more spiritually.” By good preparation on the parents’ part, avoiding a mechanical, stiff, overly formal procedure, and tailoring the study to fit the needs of the children, the discussion will be anticipated and will draw the family together spiritually. Granted, with all the demands on parents’ time this is not easy, but more important than the length of such discussions is the quality of the time spent together. Additionally, children need to be taught good personal study habits of their own.—Deut. 6:4-9.
22. How can you teach your child to offer meaningful prayers?
22 As can be seen from the experience on page 13, intimate, heartfelt prayer builds a close relationship with God. Help your child to learn of the need for prayer and how to ‘pour out his heart’ to Jehovah. (Ps. 62:8) Let your child hear your heartfelt prayers. Discuss what can be included in his prayers. By telling him how Jehovah has answered your prayers and by encouraging the child to look for answers to his own, the child will realize that prayer has power.
23, 24. (a) Why should a child be taught the fear of Jehovah? (b) With whom should parents regularly work in the field ministry, and why?
23 “The intimacy with Jehovah belongs to those fearful of him,” wrote King David. (Ps. 25:14) For your child really to develop an intimate relationship with God, he must have a wholesome fear of the awesome consequences of displeasing “the living God.” (Heb. 10:31; Prov. 8:13) True, the child must love Jehovah and deeply appreciate His loving-kindness and goodness, but he must also have a solemn respect for Jehovah’s ability to punish or to allow a person to ‘reap what he has sown.’ (Gal. 6:7) If this healthy “fear” is instilled from early age, the child will develop a good conscience. Rather than thinking, ‘It’s okay, as long as I don’t get caught,’ he will feel as did Joseph, who resisted enticement to immorality and said: “How could I commit this great badness and actually sin against God?”—Gen. 39:7-9.
24 By working together in the Christian ministry, you will help your child to cultivate the same tender interest in people that Jehovah has. As the child grows in appreciation, its heart will see how it can ‘make many rich’ by teaching them the “good news” that can produce beneficial changes in their lives. This ministry is also a fine aid in developing a close relationship with God.—2 Cor. 6:10.
NEED HELP BEYOND WHAT IS NORMAL
25, 26. (a) Why is help ‘beyond what is normal’ needed by parents? (b) From where does such help come? (c) What did one father do when he thought he was ‘losing’ his child, and what did he later realize?
25 “It is not easy being the parent of teenagers,” said one Christian father who mentioned his perplexity over his withdrawn 16-year-old daughter who is the object of much pressure from boys in school. “I pray by myself and with her often—but I’m still worried.” Indeed, he saw the need for divine help that would give him and his daughter “power beyond what is normal.”—2 Cor. 4:7.
26 At times parents can feel helpless when it appears that all their efforts are not succeeding. But do not give up! Because of his boy’s wayward tendencies, one Christian father admitted that at a certain point he felt he had “lost” his son, whom he had reared in Christian teaching from infancy. “I got down on my knees and prayed till the tears rolled down my face, and I begged Jehovah to help me,” stated this father. “Jehovah answered those prayers and the boy gradually changed for the better. I surely became closer to Jehovah when I saw his hand at work in my family.” Yes, look to Jehovah for help; rely on him. Pray with your children and for them. See Jehovah’s hand at work in your family.—1 Thess. 5:17.
27. (a) Who has to write God’s law on the child’s heart? (b) How do you parents feel when your child shows that its heart has “become wise”?
27 Realize that the child ultimately has to write Jehovah’s laws on its own heart. (Compare Proverbs 3:1-4.) But do all you can as a parent to reach your child’s heart. What a reward to see that child remain loyal to the truth! How great a reason for ‘your heart to rejoice’ if your children show that their hearts have “become wise”! (Prov. 23:15) You will be like the apostle John who could say of his spiritual children: “No greater cause for thankfulness do I have than these things, that I should be hearing that my children go on walking in the truth.”—3 John 4.
For specific suggestions regarding such discussions, see the book Making Your Family Life Happy, pp. 122-124, as well as the articles “A Father Talks to His Sons,” and “A Mother Talks to Her Daughters,” appearing in Awake! of June 8 and July 8, 1965.
Published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
Can you answer these questions by way of review?
◼ In training children, why is it vital to reach the heart?
◼ Why should parents discuss sexual matters with their children?
◼ What is a child’s greatest protection against sexual immorality, and what will be helpful in developing this protection?
◼ How can a child be taught to offer meaningful prayers?
◼ Why should Christian parents regularly work with their children in the field ministry?
[Blurb on page 15]
‘My parents never had a heart-to-heart talk with me about sex. There were so many things I wanted to know. I became very curious, foolish and susceptible.’—A 15-year-old girl
[Picture on page 16]
Communication between parent and child is so important
[Picture on page 17]
Using Bible study aids, a parent can give healthful instruction on sex
[Picture on page 19]
Engaging together in the field ministry helps your child spiritually