The liberal standard of society today with its radical shift of values, attitudes and changing life styles has made both parents and children flounder in a sea of uncertainty. Constant exposure to consumerism, violence, promiscuity, sexual preferences and paedophilia through the audiovisual media, has a confusing effect on impressionable minds. Erosion of authority, fragmented families, broken marriages and unsafe neighborhoods are causing an increase in mental and behavioural disorders, suicides, drug and alcohol addictions.
“Things are happening to our children that should never be allowed to happen,” said Margaret Mead.
Children of Today:
In previous generations, childhood was a simple confident journey towards adulthood. Children had opportunities for play, day dreaming and healthy recreation.
Today they are growing up without a childhood. Many infants are left in Day-care centers either because mothers are working or are disinclined to be saddled with baby care.
Then from pre-school days onward, children’s lives are steered into a rigid routine of schools, competitions, tuition and other activities. Even playtime is so structured that the primary aim is to win. As a result, children become self absorbed and do not learn to be team players nor do them learn how to win or lose gracefully. Sport becomes a time of immense pressure, even violence.
The number of “latch key” children with both parents at work, is escalating. Each evening children return to empty homes, and are alone and unsupervised for any length of time. The TV or computer becomes their close companion. There are homes where children don’t get to see their fathers, as they leave for school early in the morning before fathers awake, and are fast asleep at night long before fathers come back from work. The story is told of a busy CEO of a company, who was surprised to see that his son had made an appointment to meet him.
“Hullo son,” he said, “Is there something important you wanted to discuss with me?”
“No Dad,” said the boy, “I just wanted to spend some time with you as I never get to see you.”
Many children who are left with care givers are sexually abused. In 80% of cases the abusers are family members or close friends. Children are vulnerable. They trust implicitly especially when they are bribed with chocolates or sweets. Many times they are threatened of physical harm if they dare to complain to their parents.
Children are maturing fast and reaching puberty earlier than before. Girls are maturing even as early as 8-9 years. The rush of hormones at puberty has its own dangers. The urge to experiment becomes stronger. Though they may be physically mature they are emotionally immature, and don’t know how to handle their feelings. This makes them vulnerable to abuse.
Many parents feel a sense of inadequacy and are ready to abdicate responsibility. Some hold teachers and the education system responsible for shaping the character of their children. Others expect the Church or religious organizations to instill morals in them.
Parents sometimes want to live vicariously through their children. They set unrealistic goals in studies or sports, which the children may not be able to achieve. Constant nagging breeds frustration and loss of self worth or a tendency to revolt. Parents should understand that failures and setbacks are learning experiences. They make children determined to try again.
Over protection and overindulgence stifles spontaneity and innovation. A child has to learn social skills and how to develop interpersonal relationships. He must learn to take care of himself instead of being mollycoddled. An over-protected child will always want someone to protect him. His tolerance and frustration levels will be very low.
Many working parents experience feelings of guilt. To compensate, they shower children with expensive gifts, money or toys. Someone said, “A lot of children have so much done for them that they miss the opportunity to become competent.”
Such parents also turn a blind eye to their children’s misdemeanors.
Material gifts must not be a substitute for personal involvement in their lives.
How to be a successful parent in the 21st Century:
• Effective Parenting. This is not some inherited skill. It is a process of learning and developing. It calls for a lifetime of patience, self discipline, stamina and faith for hard days. There will be episodes of discouragements bordering on despair. Faith in a loving and caring God who gives strength, makes the journey easier.
• Building a strong and balanced family environment. Homes are not places without problems. Even the best of families cannot live in perfect harmony. There are tensions and stresses. Parents should show wisdom in diffusing these tensions in a spirit of love and affection. The concept of dependence – interdependence- independence must be woven into the fabric of family life. Children should be made to feel that they are valuable members of the family. Those who are nurtured in love and affection grow up to be responsible and resilient human beings. Parents should be quick to compliment and slow to criticize. They should ask themselves every day, “Did I hug my child today?” It may be a literal hug, a smile, a kiss or a pat on the back. There should be no hesitation in showing affection. The child who is hardest to hug may need the most hugging. A child who is confident of the love of his parents will always treat ‘home’ as a shelter in the time of storm, whether emotional, physical or spiritual. He will know where to find understanding and empathy.
• Discipline. In every home, there must be clearly marked boundaries of behaviour. The child should be aware that he cannot fight against parental authority. Parents should not buckle under defiant behaviour. This will give children the idea that they can be manipulated. Consistent discipline will earn respect, as children want parents to lead. However, if a parent has unjustly treated his child, he must be quick to apologize. The book of Hebrews says disciplining children is an essential part of fatherhood. If he does not correct his child he is treating him as an illegitimate son. Parents must lead by example. They are role models. A child learns by imitation. Everything he sees, hears and understands has an impact on his emotional growth. Faulty and inconsistent discipline is confusing. When punishment is given it should be specifically for a particular misdeed. This will register in the child’s mind as unacceptable behaviour. Similarly, good behaviour must be rewarded, achievements should be praised, and a child should never be ridiculed in the presence of others.
Discipline should involve training to respect other people’s feelings, to deal with hurt as it arises, to take responsibility for the consequences of his actions. Facing and learning to solve problems is vital to growth. He must understand that failure and success are two faces of the same coin.
Parental authority does not mean oppression or inappropriate display of anger. It should not crush the spirit of the child but should mould his character, so that he submits to loving authority, learns to respect those around him and imbibes moral values.
• Listening skills need to be honed. Questions should be honestly answered. Listening is an act of love. It involves caring and empathy. A listening parent understands, enjoys and learns more about the child. It also generates trust and security in the child. Parents need to be appreciative and positive in their attitudes.
• Emotional needs of the child should be given priority. Emotions influence every part of his life. He should be encouraged to express his feelings without fear or embarrassment. His emotions should not be trivialized. Such a child will not only be emotionally secure but will learn to respect the emotions of others. The ultimate goal is to help the child to live and function independently. A child is a total person with physical, emotional, social and spiritual needs. He needs parents who know him intimately and treat him like a person. He must be assured that parental love is unconditional.
• Sex Education. Sexual awareness is a sign of passage from childhood to adulthood. The audiovisual media is quite explicit about sex. The sexualization of children begins very early, so that even at the age of five, some children think of themselves as sexual beings. Young children are dressed in sexually suggestive clothing. Behavioural patterns treat sex as a recreational activity just like any other game. One young high school student said, “It’s a physiological need. Quench hunger with a hamburger. Satisfy sex with a girl who is willing.”
The transition between childhood and adulthood is a turbulent period marked by restlessness and an eagerness to live one’s life on one’s own terms. Many parents are embarrassed to discuss a subject as delicate as sex. But they must not allow their children to turn to their peers or the ‘moral terrorists on TV or Internet, or through personal experimentation. Parental responsibility in educating their children cannot be shirked. Irrespective of what they see in today’s liberal society, children should be taught about the relational aspects of sex within the context of marriage. It is the quality of the relationship that gives meaning to the sex act – a way of communicating love, tenderness, caring and commitment.
Questions about sex should be answered honestly commensurate with the age and comprehension of the child. At no time should it be inferred that sex is sinful, but its place within the context of marriage must be emphasized.
The perils of indiscriminate sex leading to illness, disease, unwanted pregnancies and stealthy abortions should be explained. They should understand that wrong behaviour leads to emotional pain and guilt.
The responsibility of parenting in the 21st Century is overwhelming. There is no substitute for parental love and leadership. A mother who lost her fifteen-year old son advises, “Embrace them with a little added rapture and a keener awareness of joy.”
As the Book of Proverbs counsels, “Train up a child the way he should go and when he is old, he will never depart from it.”(Prov 22:6.)