The liberal standard of today’s society with its sea change in values, attitudes and changing lifestyles has left both parents and children reeling in a sea of uncertainty. The constant exposure to consumerism, violence, promiscuity, sexual preferences and pedophilia through the audiovisual media has a confusing effect on impressionable minds. The erosion of authority, broken families, broken marriages, and unsafe neighborhoods are leading to an increase in mental and behavioral disorders, suicides, and drug and alcohol addictions.
“Things are happening to our children that should never be allowed,” said Margaret Mead.
In previous generations, childhood was simply a confident journey into adulthood. The children had opportunities for play, daydreaming, and healthy recreation.
Today they are growing up without childhood. Many babies stay in day care centers because the mothers are working or are not willing to take care of the baby.
Then, from preschool days onward, children’s lives drift into a rigid routine of schools, competitions, tuition, and other activities. Even game time is so structured that the main goal is to win. As a result, children become withdrawn and do not learn to play as a team or win or lose gracefully. Sport becomes a time of immense pressure, even violence.
The number of children “locked in” with both parents at work is increasing. Each night, the children return home empty and are left alone and unsupervised for an extended period of time. The television or computer becomes your closest companion. There are homes where children cannot see their parents, as they leave for school early in the morning before the parents wake up and sleep soundly at night long before the parents return from work. The story is told of a busy CEO of a company, who was surprised to find that his son had made an appointment to meet him.
“Hello son,” he said, “Is there something important you want to discuss with me?”
“No, dad,” the boy said, “I just wanted to spend some time with you, since I never get to see you.”
Many children who stay with caregivers 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 with physical harm if they dare to complain to their parents.
Children are maturing rapidly and reaching puberty earlier than before. Girls are maturing even at 8-9 years old. The rush of hormones at puberty has its own dangers. The urge to experiment grows stronger. Although 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 willing to abdicate responsibility. Some hold teachers and the educational system responsible for shaping the character of their children. Others expect the Church or religious organizations to instill morality in them.
Parents sometimes want to live vicariously through their children. They set unrealistic goals in studies or sports, which children may not be able to achieve. Constant nagging generates frustration and a loss of self-esteem or a tendency to rebel. Parents need to understand that failures and setbacks are learning experiences. They make the kids determined to try again.
Overprotection and indulgence stifle 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 pampered. An overprotected 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: “Many children have done so much for themselves that they miss the opportunity to become competent.”
Such parents also turn a blind eye to the faults of their children.
Material gifts should not replace personal participation in their lives.
How to be a successful parent in the 21st century:
• Effective Paternity. This is not an inherited ability. It is a process of learning and development. It requires a lifetime of patience, self-discipline, stamina, and faith for the tough days. There will be bouts of discouragement bordering on despair. Faith in a loving and kind God who gives strength makes the path easier.
• Build 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 tensions. Parents should show wisdom in dissipating these tensions in a spirit of love and affection. The concept of dependency – interdependence – must be woven into the fabric of independent family life. Children should be made to feel that they are valued members of the family. Those who are nurtured with 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 son today?” It can be a literal hug, a smile, a kiss, or a pat on the back. You should not hesitate to show affection. The child who is harder to hug may need more hugs. A child who trusts in her parent’s love will always treat ‘home’ as a refuge in times of storm, be it emotional, physical or spiritual. He will know where to find understanding and empathy.
• Discipline. In every home, there should be clearly marked boundaries for behavior. The child must be aware that she cannot fight against parental authority. Parents should not give in to challenging behavior. This will give children the idea that they can be manipulated. Consistent discipline will earn respect, as children want parents to guide them. However, if a father has treated his son unfairly, he should be quick to apologize. The book of Hebrews says that disciplining children is an essential part of parenting. If he doesn’t correct his child, he is treating him as an illegitimate child. Parents must lead by example. They are role models. A child learns by imitation. Everything he sees, hears and understands has an impact on her emotional growth. Faulty and inconsistent discipline is confusing. When a punishment is given, it must be specifically for a particular crime. This will register in the child’s mind as unacceptable behavior. Similarly, good behavior should be rewarded, achievements should be praised, and a child should never be ridiculed in the presence of others.
Discipline should include training to respect other people’s feelings, to deal with pain as it arises, to take responsibility for the consequences of your actions. Facing and learning to solve problems is vital for growth. You must understand that failure and success are two sides of the same coin.
Parental authority does not mean oppression or inappropriate display of anger. It should not crush the child’s spirit, but rather mold his character, so that he submits to loving authority, learns to respect those around him and is imbued with moral values.
• It is necessary to improve listening skills. Questions must be answered honestly. Listening is an act of love. It implies affection and empathy. A listening parent understands, enjoys, and learns more about the child. It also builds confidence and security in the child. Parents should be grateful and positive in their attitudes.
• Priority must be given to the emotional needs of the child. Emotions influence every part of her life. She should be encouraged to express her feelings without fear or shame. Her 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 live and function independently. A child is a whole person with physical, emotional, social and spiritual needs. He needs parents who know him intimately and treat him like a person. He must be sure that the love of the parents is unconditional.
• Sex education. Sexual awareness is a sign of passage from childhood to adulthood. Audiovisual media are quite explicit about sex. The sexualization of children begins very early, so that even at the age of five, some children see themselves as sexual beings. Young children are dressed in sexually suggestive clothing. Behavior patterns treat sex as a recreational activity like any other game. A young high school student said, “It’s a physiological need. Quench your hunger with a hamburger. Satisfy sex with a girl who’s willing.”
The transition between childhood and adulthood is a turbulent period marked by restlessness and the desire to live life on one’s terms. Many parents are embarrassed to talk about a subject as sensitive as sex. But they must not allow their children to turn to their peers or to the ‘moral terrorists’ on television or the Internet, or through personal experimentation. The responsibility of parents in the education of their children cannot be evaded. Regardless of what they see in today’s liberal society, children must 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 sexual act: a way of communicating love, tenderness, affection and commitment.
Questions about sex must be answered honestly according to the child’s age and understanding. At no time should it be inferred that sex is sinful, but its place within the context of marriage should be emphasized.
The dangers of indiscriminate sex that leads to diseases, unwanted pregnancies and stealthy abortions must be explained. They must understand that bad behavior leads to emotional pain and guilt.
The responsibility of being a parent 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: “Hold them with a little extra ecstasy and a greater awareness of joy.”
As the Book of Proverbs advises, “Teach a child in his way, and even when he is old, he will never turn from it” (Prov 22:6).