Dr. Annie George
Faculty, Faith Theological Seminary
Increasing levels of aggression and deviant behaviour in children and youths have caught nationwide attention. In August 2015, Times of India noted a steady increase of the rate of juvenile offences in the last decade. Also the overall rate of increase in crime is much faster than population growth. Sociologists have noted various underlying causes for delinquent behaviour in children:
• individual risk factors (low intelligence, lack of proper education, impulsive behaviour, and uncontrolled aggression)
• family risk factors (proper parental supervision, ongoing parental conflict, neglect and abuse)
• mental health disorders
• substance abuse
In India, the family has undergone changes in structure and function. The increase of educational opportunities and women in workforce have redefined role of men and women in families. Besides, the family is affected by the invasion of television, mobile phones, internet, consumerism which have led to value erosion. These created changes in families which have caused instability, conflict, anxiety and unhealthy child rearing patterns. In this context, it is important to revisit the significance of families and encourage families to adhere to the instructions in the Bible in raising children to be godly mature adults.
Significance of the Family
Family is seen as the foundation of Indian society. Thus we take pride in our families. Family support and supervision are important for children’s development. Support of families is one of the most powerful predictors to reduce delinquency and drug use in children. Many social problems in children are associated with weakening of the family’s care for children. Peers can be a negative influence but parents have a positive influence on children and adolescents. Peers are often blamed for delinquency in children but parental supervision is a major mediator of peer influence. Various research studies have shown that family related issues lead children to drug abuse and antisocial and delinquent behaviour in children.
Other research studies have noted how dysfunctions in families negatively influence children’s behaviour. Families cannot function effectively when there is stress and conflict. Indian families have better living standard than the previous centuries, but families are stressed more than ever before. Stress in families cause increase of child abuse and neglect.
Family conflict and reduced family involvement significantly leads to inadequate parental supervision which lead to association with deviant peers. Besides, as children witness and experience family conflict and violence, they become violent in later years. Conflict and violence negatively affects their school performance and mental health. Depression, hopelessness and personal victimization can be seen in children from such families.
Parenting issues are associated with delinquent behaviours in children. Longitudinal research studies have shown three developmental pathways to delinquency: (1) the early authority conflict pathway begins with stubborn behavior, then becomes defiant behavior, and develops into avoidance of authority figures (e.g., truancy, running away, staying out late); (2) the covert pathway begins with minor covert behaviors (e.g., shoplifting, frequent lying, stealing) and moves on to damaging property and later delinquent acts (e.g., fraud, theft, burglary); and (3) the overt pathway begins with minor aggression (e.g., bullying, teasing) and leads to physical fighting and later violent acts (e.g., physical attack, rape, assault, and battery). Youths with more than one pathway are involved in more crimes. Two factors, namely poor family attachment and poor parenting skills were found to have an impact on these developmental pathways to develop into delinquency. Higher levels of delinquency and drug use will be in children when both factors are present in families.
This discussion on positive and negative impact of families on children portray the critical role of families. Besides, families have the primary responsibility to instill spiritual and moral values and provide guidance and support for children. Thus we need to acknowledge the responsibilities of families and build on these strengths to raise children. What does the Bible tells us about the responsibilities of parents?
Instructions to Parents
As we have seen the importance of families in the life of children, parents are to take the responsibility to empower themselves to follow guidelines for its betterment and effectiveness. The Bible prescribes certain practices for the health of a family which are also supported by research studies.
1. Parents, especially fathers have a role in transmitting their religious beliefs, experiences and practices.
God commanded Abraham to direct his children and his household in the ways of the Lord so that the promise of God upon him may be fulfilled (Gen18:18-19). The Apostle Paul also instructs fathers to train children in the instruction of the Lord (Eph 6:4). The purpose of this was to let the children learn to walk in the ways of the Lord and follow the commands. This is a responsibility that need to be seen with utmost importance. In the pursuit to provide better education for children often times this responsibility is sidelined and ignored. However this is a biblical imperative that allows families to see the promises of God fulfilled in the next generation.
2. Frequency of communicating the beliefs of parents, and conscious religious socialization in the home are found to be important in transmission of values and beliefs to children. The Shema (Deut 6:4-9) clearly states the need of consistent, constant, deliberate communication of revelation of God to children. This shows that families need to take effort to frequently communicate the word of God to children.
The frequency of communicating the beliefs of parents is related to accuracy of perception of the parents’ beliefs. This indicate the reason why Shema commands to tell children when you sit, walk, lay down and stand. Accurately perceiving the beliefs of parents help children to follow it. This includes not only beliefs and values about faith but also every aspects of life such as respecting elders, doing one’s responsibility, cleanliness, hard work, being punctual, clean hands and pure heart, etc.
3. The environment of home where there is a mixture of care and control produces enthusiastic children with intrinsic religious commitment. Paul commands fathers not to embitter and exasperate children. Often discipline is seen as harsh treatment of children and love is interpreted as allowing children to control the homes. Some homes provide discipline and love as if both do not coexist. Yet these are wrong notions of discipline and love. A balance of love and discipline is needed for children’s healthy development. Here discipline is given in the context of love and love compels parents to discipline their children (Heb 12:5-6). This kind of parenting helps children to develop spirituality which is from their hearts and not to see it as a matter of peripheral importance.
4. Extra-familial influence, especially church denomination and faith mentors are important for children to acquire values. Families cannot alone provide all that is need for children to grow and develop. This is where the role of influence of those outside of family is vital. One of the role of priests in the Old Testament was to read the Law to the whole community so that they will learn to fear the Lord (Deut 31:12-13). Parental instruction and community involvement have a complementary role in the process. Thus parents need to see the value of godly influence upon children outside the family and appropriately use such opportunities.
5. Children not only need bookish knowledge of faith and life but also experiential knowledge. Children had a place in the feast and festivals in Israel. The passages beginning with “when your son asks you… then tell him….” (Exod 12:26, 13: 8,14, Deut 6:20-21, Josh 4:21). indicate that their experience in these rituals led them to ponder further about its significance. Experiential knowledge helped them to be emotionally connected with the stories of their forefathers. In our context, children need to learn through instructions and teaching. On the other hand they need to be involved in the life of the family and church in order to experience faith and feel part of the family and church. In families, children can be involved in helping parents on a daily basis, finding time to visit family members, and participate in various events. In the church, children can have age appropriate involvement in various ministry opportunities.
These discussions imply that children are not a separate entity from family. So while dealing with their inappropriate behaviours we cannot neglect the family which is the powerful support system for children. We cannot fully insulate our children from negative influences of peers or media. However we can recognize the power of families especially parents upon children and align ourselves to biblical imperatives of parental responsibilities. Then our children will not only be trained in th e way they should go but also they will be blessed due to our obedience.