Rearing Happy Children in a Troubled World
This is the first of two articles for study. This one is for the parents and the children, while the second one is for the young people themselves.
“If only they would develop this heart of theirs to fear me and to keep all my commandments always, in order that it might go well with them and their sons to time indefinite!”—Deuteronomy 5:29.
1. Why is the subject of this lesson of such great importance to us?
“MY FIRST BABY!” What happy words from the mother who cuddles that small warm bundle to her breast! The Bible speaks of the tenderness of a nursing mother, using it as an example of the affection that should exist in the Christian congregation. Even unrighteous persons love their children and give them good things. How much more should we who love righteousness be concerned with our own young ones, and with training them for life in today’s world!—1 Thessalonians 2:7; Psalm 127:3-5; Matthew 7:11.
2. What is the best source of advice and guidance regarding child rearing? Why?
2 But the new parent soon realizes that rearing children is a grave responsibility. Where can you find sound advice and guidance? Why not look to the Creator? He arranged for childbirth. (Genesis 1:28) He has seen every child who has ever been born, and the results of what the parents did. His would be the best of instructions. They are recorded in the Bible—along with examples of people who followed his principles, and of others who did not.—Proverbs 3:5, 6.
3. (a) What are some of the things our children need? (b) Why should this not discourage us?
3 What does this marvelous book teach us about child rearing? It shows many things that modern specialists think they discovered on their own. Among other things, it shows children’s need for love and security. They should be taught about God and his Word. They need good education, wholesome experiences, fine examples and right association. They should learn obedience and respect for authority. They should be taught about morals and marriage, about the kind of husband or wife to want to have and to be, and how to be a good parent. That may sound like a big job for you as a parent. But remember, the Bible can provide wisdom. It can “give to the inexperienced ones shrewdness,” and to the young person “knowledge and thinking ability.” Let us examine some of the things it tells us about child rearing.—Proverbs 1:4.
4. (a) What did children of God-fearing parents learn? (b) By whom and how was this teaching done?
4 The Bible shows that the children of God-fearing parents were brought up in security, by families that were concerned about their weaknesses and their need for protection. (Genesis 33:14; 43:8) Children were taught a means of making a living—David was a shepherd boy, and Jesus was a carpenter. (1 Samuel 16:11; Mark 6:3) They also learned something far more important—the wondrous ways of the great God JEHOVAH. This training was not given in catechism classes or in Sunday schools, but by the people who had the greatest interest in the children—by their own parents. Jehovah expected the Israelites to make his ways known to their sons and their grandsons. (Deuteronomy 4:9, 10) Parents were to teach their children at all times—at home or away, when lying down or getting up. They were to teach by word and by example, passing marvelous truths on to succeeding generations.—Deuteronomy 11:18-21.
5. What does a famed Bible dictionary say about child training?
5 The famed French Dictionnaire de la Bible says that as soon as the child was able to talk he was taught a few passages from the Biblical law. “His mother would repeat a verse; when he knew it, she would give him another one. Later, the written text of the verses they could already recite from memory would be put into the children’s hands. Thus, they were introduced to reading, and, when they had grown, they could continue their religious instruction by reading and meditating on the law of the Lord.”a This reference work continues: “It was in the security of the family and on the knees of his father and mother that the child was to receive his first and most profitable moral lessons.”—Vol. II, Column 1596.
6. (a) What exciting experiences did Israelite children enjoy? (b) Have your children enjoyed similar experiences, and if so, what were the benefits to them?
6 God knew that children respond to new experiences and that these can be a teaching aid. Thus, the “little ones” were taken on exciting trips to Jerusalem to hear God’s law read. (Deuteronomy 31:12, 13) Your children can enjoy similar blessings, attending regular circuit and district assemblies of Jehovah’s Witnesses where they can benefit from instruction, participate as volunteers, and make fine new friends. You can make such events high points of their lives, as the trips to Jerusalem were special events for the Israelite children.
7. Why is it so important to set the right example?
7 God knew the importance of a good example. Children copy what they see. They can learn a language—as difficult as that is—by imitating what they hear. God said: “If only [the people] would develop this heart of theirs to fear me and to keep all my commandments always, in order that it might go well with them and their sons to time indefinite!” The Bible says: “One who is good will leave an inheritance to sons of sons.” (Deuteronomy 5:29; Proverbs 13:22) Thus, much depends on you. As parents, we should do our utmost to set the right example, for certainly we would not want our children to be following a wrong one.
8. What questions should we ask ourselves about our children’s associations?
8 God also calls our attention to the dangers of bad association. His Word says: “Bad associations spoil useful habits.” (1 Corinthians 15:33) Thus, it is important to know with whom your children associate. Do you really know who their friends are? Do you have them bring their friends home, into the house, so that you can get to know them? Or do you simply put the children outside, to get them out of the way? Do you know what kind of language your children hear, and what their associates’ attitude is toward lying, stealing and drugs?
9. What positive steps could you take to help your children to find better friends?
9 If that association leaves something to be desired, where can your children find better friends? Within the congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses—where filthy language, lying, stealing and drug abuse are not tolerated. Have you wished that others in the congregation would associate more with your children? Then why not reach out to them? Have you taken the initiative? Why not invite other young people over to your house, or ask them to join you in Christian witnessing or to enjoy other wholesome activities?
10. How can you help your children to become better associates for others?
10 If you have tried this, and the problem of associations persists, it might be well to ask yourself, Why? Have you only recently started applying Bible principles? Sometimes young people who are brought to the Kingdom Hall have not yet corrected certain problems, to become good associates themselves. One young person said concerning another: “At the Kingdom Hall she is fine, but you wouldn’t believe what she does at school!” This girl’s loose sexual attitude on the school grounds made others not want to be identified with her. How can you help your children to make over their own mind in such matters? Your instruction, your family Bible study, your family participation in Christian witnessing, your own example in speech, behavior and honesty, and your efforts to reach the child’s heart with right principles can go a long way. When needed, the congregation’s elders may also be called upon to give loving help.—James 5:13-15.
11. Why should you not despair if there are bad examples within your own family?
11 But what if there are serious problems right within your own family? What if an unbelieving mate lives exactly contrary to wholesome Bible principles? Do not despair. Your right influence and the help of God’s spirit can work wonders. There are children who have soared above apparently insurmountable problems, becoming fine young people. Humans were made by God, and even little children can demonstrate amazing strength when directed in the right way by a friend, by a thoughtful older person, or by a sole believing parent in a largely unbelieving family.
12. How do the examples of Lot and Timothy provide encouragement in this matter?
12 Consider the example of Lot. His family lived in wicked Sodom, and his wife apparently wanted to stay there. But Lot and his daughters fled and survived the city’s destruction. (Genesis 19:15-17, 23-26) Young Timothy had an unbelieving father, but his mother and grandmother taught him the Scriptures and saw him become a faithful follower of Jesus Christ and a loyal companion of the apostle Paul. (2 Timothy 1:5; 3:14, 15) So, even if you do not have a believing mate, God can help you to instill a deep love for truth and righteousness in the hearts of your children.
Knowledge and Education
13. (a) Why should young Christians take education seriously? (b) How does Solomon’s example show the importance of correct speech?
13 Do you encourage your children to learn, both in school and in the congregation? Is learning important to your family? It was to the Israelites. Theirs was a literate society. Their children could read the Scriptures. In addition to reading, your children will speak to others about God’s Word. Do they use correct grammar? Have you corrected errors you may have made for years, so that your children will hear you speak correctly? Solomon carefully chose words with which to praise God. Accordingly, we read: “The congregator sought to find the delightful words and the writing of correct words of truth.”—Ecclesiastes 12:10.
14. How can we help our children to learn to make right decisions?
14 Obviously we want our children to become mature adults and to make right decisions in harmony with God’s Word. Thus, it would be good to start early in teaching them right principles—not just commands to be obeyed but also the reasons for them. Then the children will learn how to make right decisions on their own.
15. (a) What important support do our children need from us? (b) About what do we need to be very careful?
15 Our children face a corrupt world. It is important for them to see in us a sense of strength and conviction, and they should know that if they are right, we will back them up, as Sarah defended Isaac from Ishmael. (Genesis 21:9, 10) We also should remember that by expecting right things, we are more apt to get them. “Do you know why you don’t have any trouble with us?” a young Witness asked her father. “Because you don’t try to trap us doing wrong—you expect us to do right, and we wouldn’t do anything else.” How often parents accuse their children of something, then find out that they did not do it at all! If you accuse children of lying and the accusation is not true, they may think you expect them to lie, and the next time they may do so.
16. (a) What suggestions are made regarding Christian meetings? (b) What shows that these meetings are of great value to children? (c) Do you know of examples that illustrate their value to young ones?
16 Many persons have found it wise to take their children, from their earliest age, to meetings where God’s Word is discussed—not sitting in a separate room with them, or walking them out to the back (except for brief moments, for good reason) but teaching them to sit calmly, to show respect for the meetings and to benefit from the good things discussed. Today, older persons, solid in the faith, remember the zeal of their parents who regularly took them great distances, perhaps in a rickety old car, to attend such meetings. A congregation elder remembers complicated prophecies he heard his parents discuss as they prepared the Watchtower study long ago, when he was a little child playing on the floor. Little did they imagine he was listening—let alone that he would remember the explanation more than half a century later!
17. What Biblical examples can you cite of children being present at meetings, and what questions might we ask ourselves about these?
17 In Ezra’s day all those intelligent enough to listen stood from daybreak till noon to hear the Scriptures read. (Nehemiah 8:2, 3) If you had been alive then, would your children have been there, or would you have considered the material too deep and the reading too long and have sent them off to play? Joseph and Mary “were accustomed to go from year to year to Jerusalem for the festival of the passover.” That is why they were there when Jesus was 12 years old. (Luke 2:41-49) Would you have gone that distance, on foot or on the back of an ass, to attend that assembly? When multitudes, including “young children,” came to hear Jesus, and there was nothing for them to eat, Jesus miraculously fed them. (Matthew 14:21; 15:38) Would your children have been there, or would you have stayed home to feed them an apparently necessary meal?
18. In what further way can we show appreciation for Christian meetings?
18 Do your children know that you take Bible study meetings seriously? Do they see that you consider these meetings important enough not just for you to attend but for you to participate in, offering comments when these are requested? For example, will you have prepared this lesson with your children, and will both you and they offer at least one comment at the meeting in which it is discussed?
A High Goal
19. What positive attitude should we have about rearing our beloved children?
19 Does anyone do all these things perfectly? Of course not! The things discussed here are things toward which to work, not goals already achieved. In this world there will always be problems, but the Bible gives us ways of dealing with them, and if we try to do things God’s way, he will help. When asked why his children seem strong in the faith, one Christian father said: “I really don’t know. We didn’t do anything exceptional. We just tried to apply the counsel we got from the Bible and from the organization.”
20. (a) What are some of the things you can do to rear happy children today? (b) How do both the theme text at the beginning of this lesson and Proverbs 20:7 encourage us in this matter?
20 When you come right down to it, that is what it takes to rear happy children today. Set the right example. Teach it to your young ones. Rejoice in the good things they do, and try to help them to correct the others. Share their joys and their life. Demonstrate love. Do things God’s way, and he will bless your efforts. Remember Solomon’s uplifting inspired words: “The righteous is walking in his integrity. Happy are his sons after him.”—Proverbs 20:7.
a In Bible times, as today, some people could read and some could not, but the ability to read may have been far more widespread than many persons have imagined. (Compare Isaiah 29:11, 12.) In fact, The Encyclopedia of the Jewish Religion says: “Literacy seems to have been widespread in ancient Israel.”
God’s commands were to be written upon the doorposts and tied on the hands—acts that would have had little value to people who could not read. (Deuteronomy 6:8, 9; 27:8) The king was to write his own copy of the law and read in it daily. (Deuteronomy 17:15, 18, 19) A young man of Succoth wrote the names of the leading men of his town.—Judges 8:14.
Reading and writing were not limited to the educated class. In his commentary on the book of Judges, James D. Martin wrote that “some of our earliest evidence for alphabetic writing was scratched on cave walls by slaves in the mines of Sinai.” Amos was a humble sheep raiser. Micah was a rural prophet from the village of Moresheth. (Amos 1:1; Micah 1:1) Yet both wrote books of the Bible.
The apocryphal book of First Maccabees, likely written about the latter part of the second century B.C.E., indicates that people had copies of the Law in their houses. (1 Maccabees 1:55-57) The Jewish historian Josephus stated his first-century view that the Law orders that children “shall be taught to read, and shall learn both the laws and the deeds of their forefathers.”—Against Apion, II p. 375 (25).
PARENTS AND CHILDREN, HOW WOULD YOU ANSWER THESE QUESTIONS?
□ Where should parents seek advice on child rearing, and why?
□ What are some Bible examples of proper child training?
□ In what practical ways can parents guard their children’s associations?
□ How can application of Bible principles overcome problems in divided households?
□ What steps should parents take, looking to the proper education of their children?
□ Can parents and children expect to do everything perfectly? Yet how may they succeed?
[Picture on page 14]
A youngster asked his mother: “Look how much trouble rearing a child is—do you wish you hadn’t had me?” Many years later he still remembers, with deep affection, her answer: “Anything worthwhile takes time and effort.”
[Picture on page 15]
How often do you, as parents, set the example not only in attending but in participating at meetings where God’s Word is discussed?