We live in an age when increasingly less is expected of children, yet ever more is expected by them. This has created unintended but easily foreseen results.
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The formative childhood years of the coming generation are vastly different than their predecessors. In an increasingly industrialized, technologically advancing democratic world, childhood has become solely fun and pleasure. Most everything in their world seems to revolve around them.
One would think that this would produce children that are happy, upbeat and joyful. It has not.
Instead, youth today are unhappy, joyless, sullen, depressed, bratty and often demanding. Each year finds more children and adolescents being diagnosed with new disorders requiring medication aimed at controlling what is in reality bad behavior. Shocking reports have come out about the side effects of antipsychotic drugs—a concept that challenges the very underpinnings of any society forced to use them on a wide scale.
This was not the case as little as a relative few years ago. Indeed, it has only been in recent years this phenomenon has occurred.
Why? What has caused this great shift of mindset in this recent generation?
The thinking of 18th and 19th centuries could find no place in today’s society. It was a time when “children were to be seen and not heard.” How extreme this must seem to be in the minds of many today. While this age had its flaws, children were generally happy. Clearly defined boundaries of acceptable behavior were taught and enforced. There was no doubt left as to who was in charge of the family. It was expected—demanded—that honor and respect be shown toward parents and other adults. The “first commandment with promise” (Eph. 6:2; Ex. 20:12; Deut. 5:16) was ingrained into young minds. When an adult entered a room, neatly dressed, well-behaved children rose to their feet in respect. They would warmly greet visitors with “Good day, Mr. Smith” or “How do you do, Mrs. Jones.”
When dad came home from work or in from the field, a chorus of young voices would welcome him with “Hello, father!” or “Daddy’s home!” The same honor was extended to their mother. It was expected that their focus should be on others, not themselves.
Little girls spent their days with mom, learning how to take care of the home and often lending a hand in caring for siblings. They were taught responsibilities such as cleaning, doing laundry, cooking and baking—all of the things to keep a home running smoothly and efficiently. They were expected to be mommy’s little helpers, contributing their fair share to the daily duties.
Little boys were also given household tasks, but of a more strenuous nature. Yard work needed to be done; firewood chopped and split or coal shoveled for the furnace; a family garden attended to, with planting, weeding and watering. They, too, had to fulfill their part in the family as daddy’s busy little helping hands, taking care of tasks while he was at work providing for his family’s financial needs.
This was even more so if the father’s job was the family farm. On top of everyday chores, there were animals to care for, fields to plow and sow, crops to raise and harvest, fences to erect and tend to. The family’s livelihood and well-being depended on group effort, with each member contributing for the good of the whole.
It was sometimes boring, tedious work, yet it had to—and did—get done. Children learned to keep at a task no matter how difficult, and to see the job through to its completion. The children’s obligation and allegiance was to their parents and family. They learned and practiced it. This then extended later in life toward their nation, spouse, employer and ultimately to their progeny. They learned to have an outgoing, out-flowing care and concern for others, extending past their own selfish wants. Parents employed the proverb, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (22:6). They had a clear grasp, a sound-minded approach, to loving and rearing children. A child’s “right” was to be a respectful, hard-working cog in the family machine, bringing honor to father, mother, brother and sister alike. The world did not revolve around them.
Yet life was not all work and no play. The simple things in life—a swim in the nearby pond or stream; a tree swing; a straw fort built in the barn; a game of marbles, tag or hide-and-seek; playing with a Raggedy Anne doll or a hand-built toy—brought countless hours of fun and enjoyment. Reading a good book could transport one to a faraway land to experience endless adventures. Only one’s imagination limited the fun that could be had in a slower-paced, comparatively carefree existence.
Boredom was never allowed to ruin the day. Still, young people growing up during this period could enjoy the quietness of a warm summer evening gliding back and forth in a porch swing; or, on a warm spring day, lying in the greening grass staring up into the sky, looking for the shapes of animals in the clouds floating by.
Generally, this wholesome pattern of childhood continued through the early and mid-1900s. Indeed, growing up in a large family from the 1950s, 60s and into the 70s on a 186-acre dairy farm in the American Midwest, my childhood was a mixture of hard physical work and countless hours of fun. All my brothers and sisters lent a hand with the daily chores and work that came with each season. Our parents taught us to respect and honor them and others, to give of ourselves, and to value hard work and completing the task at hand.
Summer vacations from school were spent harvesting winter wheat, oats, baling straw and cutting hay. During the school year, upon entering my parents’ home after the school day was done, my mother’s voice would often ring out, “Your father needs you out in the field—change your clothes and go help him.”
My brothers heard the same, and my sisters were kept equally busy. Sometimes we were sent into a freshly plowed field to pick rocks—a chore that has a definite beginning, but no end!
But it was a happy, joyful, fun-filled life. How could it be otherwise, growing up with the largest yard and playground in the neighborhood? There were so many fun things to keep us occupied: a creek teeming with life, the barn where forts could be built, a sand pile to play in, and a four-tree tree house our father built. Boredom never found a place in our house. Life had purpose and meaning!
How times have changed! And so has the childhood experienced by today’s youth. Why?
As time has marched on, so have the technological advancements of the Western democratic societies. In the last 25 to 50 years, there have been welcome advances in time- and labor-saving devices.
But there has also been an explosion in what could simply be described as “toys,” electronic gadgets of all kinds. There are now an incredible number of “things” to want and that seemingly everyone “must” have—ever acquiring more, but never content with what they already possess. The simple things that satisfied people in ages past no longer do.
As the industries that make these modern inventions grew, so has the need for laborers in the factories that produce them. This has had numerous effects. Most people have left behind the agricultural way of life for the 40-hour work week. Now, fewer boys are growing up working alongside their fathers performing the day-to-day tasks that teach a strong work ethic. Ever-increasing numbers of wives and mothers have entered the workforce. This has changed the family dynamic. Mom is no longer home to teach her daughters how to manage a household. What was once taught is now neglected. Daily chores are a thing of the past.
Much whining and crying comes from the mouths of adolescents at even the suggestion that they should clean their rooms or take out the trash—tasks that take but moments to perform. Ask any employer how difficult it is to find young people who will work at almost any job—especially those considered mundane and boring! The mere suggestion of spending the day picking rocks out of a field would bring howls of protest. These are the types of jobs now left to millions of hardworking illegal immigrants.
Many parents are driven by the thinking that their children’s lives must be better than was their own. It is natural to want your children to be happy and comfortable. Feeling guilt at not spending enough time with them has compelled many a father or mother to try to compensate in other ways. Gradually, the focus has changed from parents teaching children to help the family—to pull their weight and do their share—to the opposite. Now, everything is done for them—the world revolves around them. Instead of selfless, outgoing concern, there is a selfish inward attitude. The purpose and meaning of their life is to party and “have a good time.”
No longer are children obligated to their parents. Parents are now obligated to their children—obligated to do everything for them and take them where they want to go—baseball games, football, soccer, dance and gymnastic practice. Obligated to clean and pick up after them. Obligated to provide the very latest gadgets, be it a CD or DVD player or the latest cell phone—lest they be unhappy, depressed or bored beyond belief! They must always be plugged in so that they are not left alone with their own thoughts.
As if competing in a popularity contest, parents are afraid not to cater to their offspring’s whims, lest they lose their love. They will certainly not apply discipline, for fear of terribly destroying their little one’s “self-esteem”! Truly, this scripture has come to pass: “Children are their oppressors…they which lead you cause you to err, and destroy the way of your [former] paths” (Isa. 3:12).
All of this has produced an entire generation of weak, selfish, pampered children. Though they have all they could ask for, the joy and better life that their parents want for them is not there. Countless millions of young minds, after being diagnosed with every conceivable disorder, are being “medicated” in an attempt to fix depressed, unhappy and unfulfilled lives.
This need not be the case with your children. If you are a parent who desires to rear joyful, wholesome children who understand the real meaning and purpose to life, then there are tried and true—time-honored—childrearing principles available. Scriptural, they are contained in our book Train Your Children God’s Way.