Parents are increasingly neglecting their most important responsibility, often with tragic results.
Never have our young people had more leisure time, better food, better education, or more material goods. Yet youthful violence, aggression, and hostility is more pronounced than in any period of modern history. Forty percent of United States crimes of violence and two thirds of crimes against property (80% of vandalism) are committed by those under twenty-one. And the U.S. is by no means alone in this phenomenon. Youth crime and violence are epidemic in almost all "advanced" countries. "We are experiencing a breakdown in the process or making human beings human," stresses Cornell psychologist and Career child watcher Uric Bronfenbrenner. It would be grossly misleading to implicate that all modern youth are turning out "bad." There are innumerable notable exceptions with which we are all familiar. Still, our children and young adults — tomorrow's most valuable and important resource — are tempted to respond to alluring but warped social forces that have already pushed untold numbers into heartache. disillusionment, and ruined lives.
Parents on the Run
Many forces have caused this crisis, but without a doubt the biggest single factor is that youth and parents increasingly are going their separate ways. Having lost their spiritual and moral roots, many parents are running, many literally, from one of the most important responsibilities in life: that of preparing the future generation under their charge to become intelligent, self-disciplined, responsible, productive, decent human beings. "An increasing number of parents have resigned their responsibility for the character of their child," says Dr. Amitai Elzioni, professor of sociology at Columbia University. "It's as elementary as that." Caught up in a whirl wind of work, social, or entertainment activities, many parents have little time, desire, or energy to show affection or to give positive training and discipline to their offspring. Yet these are the basic essentials of "making human beings human." Finding their children irritating, ungrateful, unrewarding, or "in the way," many parents have come to resent their children. Backed up by stacks of social statistics from government agencies. Bronfenbrenner points to an alarming but irrefutable fact: Upside-down homes and family fracture, while more serious in poor and non-white groups, cut right across all income, race, and education categories. To compound the problem, more modern women are beginning to desert their home and family. In some places, wives actually outnumber husbands as runaways.
Another well-established trend — the desire of mothers to pursue a career outside the home — hasn't improved overall parent-child relationships or character training. One third of American mothers of preschool children are in the labor force. More than half of our school-age children now have mothers who work outside the home, mostly full time. While this is not to say it is always harmful for mothers to work outside the home (much depends on the family circumstance, age of children, and quality or training), this situation has produced a growing number of neglected children who barely see or know their parents, or vice versa.
Worst Fruit from Child-rearing Extremes
While broken homes often engender a great deal of youthful problems, much dehumanizing is done in intact homes where child-rearing extremes or inconsistency is the rule. Untold numbers of homes are not homes, but battlegrounds where children and parents endlessly "fight it out," with many parents intimidated and cowering before their child's every selfish whim. In too many homes at the other extreme, harsh, oppressive, whimsical, or capricious parental discipline leaves a variety of deep scars on its youthful victims. The toll of emotionally and physically battered and abused children mounts up into the hundreds of thousands every year. In between are a large group or parental oscillators; they swing back and forth between being too strict and too lenient. Unhappy with the results of their inconsistency, many just give up and take the path of least resistance.
Parenting — A Dying Art
Parental influence is rapidly diminishing to a very low point. Many parents seem to be blindly apathetic or demoralized while a growing list of ersatz "parents" indoctrinate their children with questionable values and attitudes. For many younger children, television — with its violence and inanity — is frequently used as a flickering electronic parent. TV now occupies more waking hours of millions of young children than any other single influence — including both parents and schools. Peer groups, schools, preschools, and various child-care centers have also taken over the role that too many parents seem reluctant to perform. While none of these are necessarily wrong, and in some regards may be quite beneficial, none fulfill the major responsibility of preparing youth for mature, responsible adulthood. Even after six years of formal schooling, though, an average child has spent only seven percent of his or her life in school. Ninety-three percent of the child's life has been influenced by the moral, ethical, and social values of the home. neighborhood, friends, community, or church. So without the active participation of parents or guardians who value and exhibit some measure of the qualities of respect cooperation, and concern for others, there is almost no possibility that the next generation can learn them. "What is needed," says Bronfenbrenner, "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."
Parents in Need of Help
Responsible parents dare not depend on hope and luck to fashion the critical attitudes they value in their children. We cannot really expect desirable behavior in our children if we haven't done our homework early in their lives. To a large degree, we reap what we sow. There is a critical period during the first four or five years when a child can most readily get a solid foundation of proper attitudes and values. We must not fail the generation which is still responsive to sound values and principles of good character. Too frequently young, immature or unprepared men and women find themselves saddled with the responsibility or an impressionable, helpless infant about which they know almost nothing, How many parents have received one iota of formal training in the very critical area or child rearing? Society demands that those who raise chickens and pigs have more training than those who rear children. What a tragedy and travesty! Many parents do not understand the emotional or intellectual needs of their children. Many parents are unwittingly reinforcing in their children the very habits they want to eliminate, largely from an improper approach or wrong emotional communications with their children. No parent is perfect. And a child is not usually destroyed by a few mistakes. Every parent can improve on the parenting art: yet it will take effort to get the proper balance of knowledge, methods, and attitudes. What is a good parent? Every parent needs to know right moral values, how to set limits, how to encourage intellectual and emotional growth, as well as how to discipline within a framework of love. It's a mighty big task. The helpful principles on the following pages, while not total answers to every child-rearing problem, are solid, common-sense methods to use in training your children to become responsible and useful members of society.
WAYWARD TEEN-AGERS' ADVICE TO PARENTS
Several years ago, a minister, C. Galea, was assigned to the Guelph Correctional Centre for summer work. During his time there he developed an excellent rapport with the young lawbreakers there. After becoming acquainted with them, he asked the boys to delve into their backgrounds for clues as to why they had ended up in that institution for delinquents. He asked them to draw up a "code for parents." using as a basis specific areas where their own parents had failed. Here is what they advised: 1. Keep cool. Don't lose your temper in the crunch. Keep the lid on when things go wrong. Kids need the reassurance that comes from controlled responses. 2. Don't get strung out from too much booze or too many pills. When we see our parents reaching for those crutches, we get the idea that nobody goes out there alone, that it's perfectly okay to go for a bottle or a capsule when things get heavy. Remember, your children are great imitators. And we lose respect for parents who tell us to behave one way while they are behaving another way. 3. Bug us a little. Be strict and consistent in dishing out discipline. Show us who's boss. It gives us a feeling or security to know we've got some strong supports under us. 4. Don't blow your class. Keep the dignity of parenthood. Stay on that pedestal. Your children have put you there because they need someone to look up to. Don't try to dress, dance, or talk like your kids. You embarrass us and you look ridiculous. 5. Light a candle. Show us the way. Tell us God is not dead, sleeping, or on vacation. We need to believe in something bigger and stronger than ourselves. 6. If you catch us lying, stealing, or being cruel, get tough. Let us know WHY what we did was wrong. Impress on us the importance of not repeating such behavior. When we need punishment, dish it out. But let us know you still love us, even though we have let you down. It'll make us think twice before we make the same move again. 7. Call our bluff. Make it clear that you mean what you say. Don't be wishy-washy. Don't compromise. And don't be intimidated by our threats to drop out of school or leave home. Stand firm. If you collapse, we will know we beat you down, and we will not be happy about the "victory." Kids don't want everything they ask for. 8. Be honest with us. Tell the truth no matter what. And be straight-arrow about it. Lukewarm answers make us uneasy. We can smell uncertainty a mile away. This means being generous with praise. If you give us kids a few compliments once in a while, we will be able to accept criticism more readily. We want you to tell it like it is.
— Ann Landers, Field Newspaper Syndicate
4 CHILD REARING BASICS by Brian Knowles
For so many unfortunate children, life is an endless series of "don'ts." "nos." "can'ts." "stop!" "don't do that," "be quiet," "maybe," "sit still," "no, you can't go there," etc. It's all completely negative. Merely seeking to control a child's activities, noise level, and attitudes is a short-sighted approach to child rearing. Enlightened parents operate on the basis of long-range goals. They seek to produce an end product. We are all the end result of our parents' child-rearing methods (or lack of them), our environments, etc. In fact, much of modern psychology is based upon the principle of tracing adult problems back to their childhood origins. The Bible tells us: "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it" (Prov. 22:6, RSV). It is an accepted axiom that the first six years of any child's life are the most impressionable. Those of us who are "grown up" carry at least some scars from our childhood years. Habits were started, attitudes were formed, and patterns were set. The rearing of children is one of the greatest responsibilities any human being can ever have. Those of us who are parents are presiding over the formation of the next generation of mankind. That generation will be an outgrowth — a product — or this generation. Will that generation be of lesser quality? Will it be of inferior stature? Or will it be responsible for creating a better age — an age of accomplishment and human emancipation? Believe it or not, the way you rear your children will have an important bearing on the answer. Much can be said about proper child-rearing techniques. This article, however, will not attempt to "cover the waterfront" on the subject, but will discuss four vital keys for successful child rearing. (Further complementary information on this subject is contained in our free booklet The Plain Truth About Child Rearing.)
1 SHOW LOVE AND AFFECTION
Children thrive in an atmosphere of love and affection. They shrivel up in an atmosphere of anger and tension. Loving parents produce loving children! A father who is an overbearing tyrant cannot expect affectionate sons and daughters. Paul cautioned: "Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged" (Col. 3:21, RSV). Sooner or later a victimized child will turn bitter and resentful. Paul told parents how to avoid this when he warned fathers to bring their children up in the "discipline and instruction of the Lord" (Eph. 6:4. RSV). Parents need to realize that there is a right time to discipline their child and a right time for righteous parental anger. But such occasions should be the exception rather than the rule! Parents should never allow themselves to go on a yelling, storming rampage. Such wild, uncontrolled parental emotionalism will only produce a negative result, and it certainly doesn't cause a child to grow in respect for his parents. So remember, a constant demonstration of parental love for children is undoubtedly one of the greatest keys to successful, productive child rearing.
2 SET THE RIGHT EXAMPLE
Right parental example is certainly a critical factor in right child rearing. We've all heard the expression. "Monkey see, monkey do." It's also true of children. Children are often carbon copies of their parents. Bad-tempered, irritable parents produce bad-tempered, irritable children. Sullen, sulky parents often produce children of a similar disposition. Adulterous parents can expect to have promiscuous children. Parents who feel the world owes them a living generally produce lazy, ungrateful children. Parents who are racists will produce children who use racist terms. By the time their children are old enough to comprehend the real impact or these derogatory slang terms, the die is cast and their attitudes are firmly set. Children and teen-agers who smoke pot or take drugs will often — as an excuse for their habit — point to their parents' addiction to alcohol, tobacco, or prescription drugs. Nothing renders a parent's efforts in child rearing more ineffective than simple parental hypocrisy. Children cannot be expected to adopt standards to which their parents are unwilling to adhere. Speaking to the Jewish element in the congregation at Rome, the apostle Paul wrote: "... If you are sure that you are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of children... you then who teach others, will you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery?" (Rom. 2:19-22. RSV.) This admonition can be applied generally to parents of children as well as to anyone.
3 TAKE TIME TO TEACH YOUR CHILDREN
The mind of a child is pliable and impressionable. It is receptive to almost any input from any source. It is most important that you, as parents, provide your children with a suitable learning environment. Give them experiences which teach, because the unknown is usually best explained by the known. Exploit your child's own frame of reference, and build on the knowledge he already possesses. Often the most effective parental teaching is informal. Capitalize on situations that arise. Take advantage of the questions that emerge as a natural result of your child's innate curiosity. This type of spontaneous, informal, give-and-take teaching session is often much more effective with children than the formal, stilted "lecture session." Children just naturally tend to resent being "lectured." They will often close their minds to parental input in such sessions and daydream about more pleasant things. (This does not mean that there is not an appropriate time for a formal lesson of instruction in which the child is obliged to pay attention. But this is not the most effective, nor should it be the most common, method of instruction.) In addition to capitalizing on your child's natural curiosity and need for explanations, it is also important to encourage your child to think for himself. Wake up his mind. Stimulate his developing thought processes. "The actual work of the teacher consists of the awakening and setting in action of the mind of the pupil, the arousing of his self-activities.... All explanation and exposition are useless except as they serve to excite and direct the pupil in his own thinking. If the pupil himself does not think, there are no results of the teaching: the words of the teacher [i.e., the parent] are falling upon deaf ears.... Make your pupil a discoverer of truth — make him find out for himself" (John Milton Gregory, Seven Laws of Teaching, pp. 84, 85). Knowledge should not be "shoveled" into a child's mind by parental "pressure tactics." The acquisition of knowledge should be one of the paramount experiences of any child's life. It should be an ongoing, thrilling, exhilarating process. Each parent should strive to give his children a sense or discovery. Guide, nudge, and direct their thought processes in the right direction — but let them draw their own conclusions.
4 DISCIPLINE YOUR CHILDREN
Discipline is a means of curbing undesirable behavior. It is a form of punishment — never revenge! It is merely a method of effecting a "course correction" in a child's development. "Most parents see the whole problem of discipline in child rearing as a question of being either strict or lenient, tough or soft, authoritarian or permissive. Because they are locked into this either-or approach to discipline, they see their relationship with their children as a power struggle, a contest of wills, a fight to see who wins — a war" (Dr. Thomas Gordon. Parent Effectiveness Training. p. 151). Parents should not be at war with their children. This whole approach is a simple-minded approach to a complex and profound human relationship. Parental discipline is most often associated with spanking (corporal punishment). And the Bible does teach the principle of "spare the rod and spoil the child" (see Prov. 13:24). God himself corrects and chastens every son he loves (Heb. 12:6). We are told by Solomon that the foolishness of a child will be driven from him by the rod of correction (stick or switch ) (Prov. 22:15). But spanking should be a last resort. Physical punishment should not be the main feature of a child-rearing program. Yet, many parents have emphasized the form of discipline at the expense of the first three listed essential keys. To some unfortunate children, corporal punishment has become a way of life. Assuredly, there are times when a parent's will must prevail over that of his child. But there are more intelligent ways to bring this about than simply beating a child into submission. Discipline can take many forms. Spanking is merely one of them. One of the most effective forms of punishment, especially for older children, is the withholding of privileges. Banning the use of the television for a certain period, for example, or withdrawing permission to play with a friend, to go to a movie, to use the family automobile, to go to a dance, etc., can be effective. Dr. Dobson, author of Dare to Discipline, has this to say about the disciplining of teen-age children: "... Teen-ager's desperately want to be thought of as adults, and they deeply resent being treated like children. Spanking is the ultimate insult. Punishment for adolescents should involve lost privileges, financial deprivation, and related forms of nonphysical retribution" (p. 61). Often, making a child of any age realize the consequences of his wrong action or attitude is a very effective form of punishment in itself. Children must be made to realize that wrong actions hurt other people. Undesirable conduct is such because it hurts everyone involved — including those who perpetrate it. Poor child rearing produces maladjusted, unfulfilled, inferior children. Proper child rearing bears the good fruit of bright, responsive, well-adjusted, happy children. If you build your child-rearing techniques upon the principles of love and open affection, right parental example, intelligent, balanced teaching, and effective discipline, you will succeed in rearing successful, happy, responsible children.
RECOMMENDED READING Joan Beck, How to Raise a Brighter Child, Trident, 1967. John Milton Gregory, Seven Laws of Teaching, Baker Book House, 1971. Dr. Thomas Gordon, Parent Effectiveness Training. Wyden 1975. Dr. James Dobson, Dare to Discipline, Tyndale, 1973.