TODAY the reality of a generation gap stares society in the face. Many parents frankly confess that they do not know their own children. They are like strangers. And this gap seems to have happened overnight. Parents may appear to be close to their children when they are small. But with the advent of teenage something tragic happens. Communication breaks down. Alienation begins. Thus a generation of children has commonly become at odds with its own parents! Why? Examine your own situation. When does your whole family — every member — get together and talk — really have a good conversation and family communication? Chances are — seldom, if ever. Many parents today really do try to provide the best for their children. They want to give them happiness and security. They consequently spend their time and energy in the acquisition of material possessions. Little time or energy, however, is spent to provide for the family's spiritual and emotional needs. Do you know why children are so inclined to learn from television, whether for good or for bad? Because a television set is never too busy to talk to children. It never brushes them aside while it does household chores or becomes involved in other pursuits. Television programming goes to considerable lengths to attract and hold the attention of youngsters. And it succeeds! Meanwhile many fathers and mothers spend a minimum amount of time and effort maintaining direct contact with their children. And then they wonder why their children do not turn out as they would like them to. Where were you when your son's class at school had its open house? Or when your daughter's dance team won the trophy? Were you just too busy to be there? Was the extra money earned by working overtime that important? Did you really have to clean the oven? A few less dollars and a few specks of dirt at home, is a small price to pay toward an investment in one of your greatest treasures — your children. If you've been negligent in involving yourself with your children, changing that relationship may not be accomplished overnight, but with diligence and patience it can be done. It must be done. You would be surprised how many young people today are deeply yearning for a closer relationship with their parents.
Controlling Youthful Energy
"The glory of young men," says the Bible, "is their strength" (Prov. 20:29). One of the greatest problems in any society is the harnessing of the energy and vitality of its youth. It is also one of the greatest difficulties of parenthood! "Johnny! Please sit still! Stop jerking and jiggling!" shouts the exasperated mother of a 10-year-old. "What's the matter?" she fumes. "Can't you ever be still and quiet?". Parents have been saying things like that for centuries. Virtually all "normal" children are bundles of pent-up, explosive energy. And that energy must be released! When it is bottled up, suppressed and thwarted, it builds up incredible pressures in children. The longer energy is suppressed the more frustrated the child becomes. Have you ever experienced this? You are driving along the freeway or the motorway. It's an extended trip of several hours. There are few stops except for gasoline or "rest" stops. The faces of the children in the backseat may be seen in the rearview mirror as they sit, squirm, struggle, wrestle, tussle, tug and pull away at each other. The longer they have to sit there, the worse their attitudes will become. Sometimes they will fall asleep in sheer frustration. They may keep saying, "When are we going to get there, Daddy?" "How much longer?" "I have to go to the bathroom." (He just went 15 minutes earlier!) The longer this agitation continues, the more irritable the parents become. After all, they would like a nice quiet, relaxing trip! Before long an explosion takes place. "Will you kids shut up!! Just sit still and be quiet! We'll get there when we get there and I don't want to hear any more about it!" Sulk. Pout. Fume. Resent. The atmosphere in the car has degenerated considerably since the trip began. Why? Simply because the parents did not understand, nor know how to cope with the factor of their children's energy! It's a law of nature — energy must be released. It must be burned up, utilized. Yet children often lack the wisdom to know how to rightly utilize their own vast energy reserves. We are told that "a child left to himself brings shame to his mother" (Prov. 29:15, Revised Authorized Version). Children, left to their own devices, often use their energy in a destructive manner. This is one of the principal reasons why children cooped up and left alone in a big-city environment often resort to acts of violence and vandalism. Children cut loose from the warm and creative environment of a close and loving family unit frequently become youthful vagrants prowling the streets and alleys of cities looking for destructive outlets for those pent-up energies. Such neglect on the part of parents is one of the key factors involved in the formation of adolescent street gangs. A child should never be cut totally adrift from his family unit. He should be able to find expression within it. He should never be left exclusively to his or her own devices during those formative years. (This is not to say a child should not be taught independence, self-reliance and responsibility.) Parents must strive to understand their child's need for constant activity and provide ways for the release of that energy. Family outings, sports activities, hikes, camp-outs, musical endeavors, building projects, hobbies, wrestling matches with Dad, walks and runs, jogging as a family, exercising together are all invaluable and constructive outlets that can be shared by all of the family. Children should be taught and encouraged to "think family." Ideally, the family environment should be the most enjoyable place for a child to be. It should be the most interesting, the most satisfying. A child who cannot find satisfaction and activity within his family unit will seek it elsewhere. Responsible, perceptive parents will recognize this need and seriously strive to provide the right kind of exciting, interest — filled environment for their children. Granted, it takes time and planning. But it pays off.
Being a Family
The Creator God does not take the responsibilities of maintaining strong family ties lightly. After all, he created this oldest of social institutions — the FAMILY. But pressures from the world are tearing this institution apart. Seldom do families get together anymore. In this hectic society it seems there is little time for simple yet meaningful occasions like dinner with the grandparents or a family reunion. And because we haven't taken the time for such things, the glue that holds families together doesn't hold firm. It's time to revive some old-fashioned values and build more permanent family ties. It might just save your family. Let's take for example the old custom of gathering the whole family together on a weekend afternoon for a big meal. If you ever had such wonderful dinners in your family, you can almost taste the delicious meals still. And who could ever forget the fun of playing outside with your cousins and neighborhood children while your parents sat and talked for hours? If that has been a part of your life you cannot forget it. But why is it gone today? Doesn't anyone care anymore? And why can't you start or reinstate such family get-together customs now? Well, you can. Of course, if the grandparents live hundreds or thousands of miles away, you can't have dinner together frequently. But if they are nearby, you can certainly make it a fairly regular practice. Even if they are a great distance away, all is not lost. Another great old-fashioned tradition used to be getting the extended family — the entire family: the brothers and sisters and all the cousins — together once a year or every other year. There is nothing like it. We in the Western world live in very mobile societies where people move often. Sometimes these moves are hundreds or sometimes thousands of miles. When such moves happen, the children grow up without any sense of stability. This separating of families has created a whole generation who don't know "who they are." When you grow up under the influence of your parents and your grandparents, there is little doubt of who you are. If you have a quick temper as your grandfather did, you'll know it if you saw him yell at the cow when she kicked over the pail. If you have a fine voice for singing, you well may have inherited it from your grandmother. If you heard her singing lullabies, you will know for sure where you got your voice. The knowledge of one's family heritage seems to be missing in so many families today. Grandpa may have been forced into early retirement while he still had years of productivity left in him. Perhaps he died prematurely from the lack of purpose and inactivity. Like as not Grandma was put into a rest home to rock away her final years of life in boredom. What a tragedy! And all the time they could have helped so much. Don't let the opportunity for your children to know and love their grandparents go by. Plan a family reunion as soon as it is practical. If the grandparents are not living, make it a practice to visit the cemetery where they are buried. Tell the children stories about their grandparents and the "good old days." You'll be surprised at the greater sense of identity it gives them. Instead of positive traditions, do you know what families in today's society have? Nontraditions. What are nontraditions? Let me give you an example. The typical Western breakfast. Years ago when societies were mainly agrarian, breakfast was quite an affair. The entire family sat around the table. Mom prepared a hearty meal of cooked cereal, toast from homemade bread, fresh fruit, scrambled eggs and a hamburger patty. Dad outlined the day's chores. That was a tradition. A nontradition is quite the opposite. Today, Dad probably grouches his way through the morning preparing to fight the traffic jams. He mayor may not bolt down a cup of coffee and a piece of toast. Where's Mom? She may have a job of her own and hurries through the blow dryer and hair curlers to be ready for her ride to work. And the children? Left to themselves, they take the easy way out and gobble down a bowl of presweetened cold cereal. That's breakfast. That's hardly conducive to the kind of bonds that build strong family ties. And lunch these days is no memorable occasion either. It is usually eaten by each member of the family separately. Dad eats lunch on the job. The children eat lunch at school. And Mom perhaps at home with the babies or at work. That's what we mean by a nontradition. Nothing of lasting value comes out of this life-style. There is nothing here to pass on to the next generation. No positive family relationships are built.
Today everyone seems to be so busy. All the members of the family are involved in so many activities. With school, work, play and television — is it any wonder members of a family can seldom be together at the same time? Usually there is only one occasion during the day when the entire family is in one place at one time. This is the evening meal. And this mealtime at least ought to be family time. But what do we see? A trend toward the no-cook-eat-in-front-of-the-television idea. City boulevards are ablaze with signs beckoning the customer to stop in and carry out a quick, already prepared meal. Society seems geared to the eat-on-the-run syndrome. Snack shops, sandwich stands, drive — in restaurants have greatly proliferated. People in today's fast-moving society grow up without any importance being placed on family dinner. Yet in many countries and among certain ethnic groups it is considered essential that all the family be seated at the dinner table together. Here a meal represents far more than just food and nutrition to the body. It is a time for family communion — fellowship, conversation and enjoyment. Is it this way in your home? Do you have each and every member of your family gathered together at least for the evening meal? This seems like such a simple thing, but it has great importance. Why pass up the opportunity to gather your entire family — the most beloved people to you — around you in an atmosphere of love? The sharing of food has always connoted the sharing of love. Sharing food together is a sure way to increase the bonds between people. And remember: It is important to make sure the conversation at the table is pleasant — no bickering, arguments, unpleasant topics or controversial matters. Mealtime should be a pleasant experience filled with goodwill. This promotes family closeness and love.
Passing on Traditions
Some of the strongest bonds in many families are passed on from generation to generation as a result of cultural heritages from the land of their ancestry. Those customs often retain cultural tastes in food, dress, dance and even in professions. Another passing on of custom can be that of a trade or profession. Throughout most of history, children learned the trade of their fathers that had in turn been learned from their fathers. Because many modern societies have given up such practices altogether, crafts that have endured for centuries are being lost. Even if a youngster does not wish to follow in his father's footsteps, if a trade, craft or profession has been learned, he will have something to fall back on. It's amazing today how few boys do any household jobs, paint or mend things, change the oil or tune up the car. Only a small number of girls know how to sew, quilt or even cook for that matter. You see, in order to learn many of these skills, you have to spend time with your father or mother or with grandparents. Since most of us are not living on a farm, we don't know how to plant, cultivate, harvest, can, bottle or freeze vegetables and fruits. Even if many families wanted to have a vegetable garden, they wouldn't know how to. Yet many middle-aged parents have known how to plant a garden — and almost every grandparent had one; probably grew up on a farm or in the country. Why haven't we passed on these fun and useful skills? If you have not learned any skills that should have been perpetuated in your family, why not take a little time to backtrack and learn from your father or mother in order to pass them on to your son or daughter?
Building New Traditions
Maybe you are part of a family that just does not have a long family history. Perhaps you have no knowledge of your ancestry or even of a craft of your parents. But that should not stop you from establishing bonds in your family now. Actually, whether you have realized it or not, there are really only two courses of action to take. Either build meaningful and lasting traditions in your family, or drift into non traditions that will cause your family to split farther and farther apart from one another. Why not sit down this evening and talk over what kind of relationships will best benefit your family? Get out the old picture album. Recall Granddad and Grandma — even your great-grandparents. Maybe you'll bring up some long lost part of your family past that your children have never even heard before. Then talk about what kind of new customs you would like to incorporate into your family. Some of the most meaningful family experiences can be worked around vacation. Perhaps visiting national parks, or taking up camping, fishing or other outdoor activities, will be something your family can enjoy. One of the best ways to spend vacation time is to hold regular family reunions such as have been mentioned earlier. So whether you decide on special vacation trips, outdoor camp-outs, dinners or nothing more than a quiet afternoon in your own backyard, make up your mind to build strong family bonds. You'll always be glad you did. Not only will it pull your family together as a team now, but someday your grandchildren will thank you for establishing family bonds that will be passed on to their children and to generations yet to come. Our next installment, "Growing Healthy Babies — There's No Second Chance!", will explain a most important issue many parents totally neglect.