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What Is Happening to Our Kids?

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The family has become a laboratory for social experimentation. The Bible has fallen out of favor as a guide for child-rearing, replaced by the ideas of such theorists as Freud, Dewey and Spock. But are our children healthier and happier as a result?


In the last century, conventional wisdom about child-rearing has undergone a dramatic metamorphosis. Respect for the Bible and family values has given way to the ideas of "social scientists" such as Sigmund Freud, John Dewey and Benjamin Spock. These theorists have turned the family into a laboratory for social experimentation.

But what has been the result of these experiments? Are our children healthier and happier? Is society better off?

We all know the answer. But do educators and child psychologists acknowledge that the very foundation of their new theories is flawed? No! Their experiments continue—on our children—even as problems grow more severe, and affect younger and younger children each year. Rather than address the root cause of these problems, these modern social engineers just redefine "normalcy" as they search for a "magic pill" that will fix everything.

U.S. News & World Report, in its March 6, 2000 cover story "The Perils of Pills," addressed America's growing tendency to medicate its children's behavior. Even a United Nations panel recently lambasted the United States for over-prescribing psychiatric drugs. As USN&WR pointed out, America "…consumes 80 percent of the world's methylphenidate (the generic name for Ritalin)" (p. 47). A March 12 article in The New York Times Magazine had a similar focus. Entitled "Generation Rx," the article observed that although throwing pills at children is bad, it is only a symptom of the real problem.

Some serious problems exist! There is no question that something terrible is happening to our children, yet it appears that the educational and pediatric establishments merely wish to treat the symptoms of these problems rather than the real causes. But what are the real causes of the problems that exist in today's families—and what can be done about them?

A Look at Today's Kids

A Newsweek article titled "The Truth About Tweens" (Oct. 18, 1999) discussed the problems facing these children in the awkward transition from childhood to adolescence. Defined as children between the ages of eight and 14, there are currently 27 million of these "tweens" in the United States, and advertisers have identified them as a lucrative market that spends $14 billion annually.

The Newsweek article explained: "They are a generation stuck on fast forward… The girls wear sexy lingerie and provocative makeup created just for tweens in order to complete what some parents call the Lolita look. The boys affect a tough-guy swagger—while fretting about when their voices will change" (Newsweek, p. 64). They are a generation whose values have been shaped by television, video games and the Internet.

What is the moral and value content conveyed by these sources? How much are children influenced by them? Make no mistake about it; most children are spending more time interacting with the electronic media than with their parents. Two-thirds of those eight to 18 have televisions in their own rooms, and six out of 10 in this age group say that their parents do not impose limits on their television viewing. In 1979, only 6 percent of sixth graders had television sets in their rooms, compared with 77 percent today (USN&WR, Nov. 29, 1999, p. 79). The result, of course, is that children live more isolated lives than ever. Parents are certainly no longer the primary influences for most children.

What values are being promoted to children these days? Certainly they are not values derived from Scripture. Much of the popular entertainment directed at "tweens" and teens celebrates attitudes that are rude, crude, vulgar, disrespectful of authority and rebellious. Violence, promiscuous sexuality, "alternative" lifestyles and crass materialism are vigorously promoted. Objections to the homosexual lifestyle or to premarital sex are presented as old fashioned, intolerant and judgmental. It seems that tolerance is the chief virtue and everything is to be tolerated—except intolerance of sin! The concept that there are no absolute rights and wrongs has been promoted in the West for well over a century—today, the belief in moral absolutes is labeled as bigoted.

Former West Point professor Lt. Col. Dave Grossman has given interesting insight into the burgeoning climate of violence among the young. In his 1996 book, On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society, he explored the dangerous similarities between today's violent movies and video games and the military training programs that help soldiers overcome their reluctance to kill. Commenting about violent television shows and video games, Grossman stated: "It has become increasingly clear that the television industry is using a toxic addictive substance—violence—in order to addict young children… Now the purpose of our play is to inflict horrendous suffering on other human beings… to sit and watch vivid depictions of human death and suffering and to associate that with pleasure—popcorn and candy bars, and laughter and cheers—like the Romans in the Colosseum watching people being butchered" (interview in the Dallas Morning News, Sept. 19, 1999).

Grossman points out that video games are one of the tools that the military uses to condition and prepare recruits for combat situations, and break down their natural inhibitions to kill. The Army uses a modified Super Nintendo video game; the Marines use the video game Doom. These are used to train and program infantrymen, like a flight simulator is used to train and program pilots. When children spend hours sitting in front of such games, is it any surprise that they become conditioned to violence?

The factors shaping our young children, the so-called "tweens," are drastically different from those of decades earlier. Single parents and two-career households represent the vast majority of homes in which young people grow up. More damaging still is the fact that many parents are themselves without a strong moral compass. Shaped by the moral relativism of the 1970s, most of today's parents feel a need to be "open-minded" about contemporary youth culture. Sadly, many are so open-minded that they have become empty-headed!

Nature or Nurture?

Since the 18th century, debates about "nature vs. nurture" have raged in the Western world. French philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau believed that children left to themselves would turn out "good." He believed that civilization is the corrupting factor, and that human nature is intrinsically good. His idea was, that without civilization, man is a "noble savage." Though most would not go to Rousseau's extreme, most 19th and 20th century liberals and progressives clung to an optimistic view of human nature, believing that it is basically good.

Sigmund Freud and John Dewey further refined and shaped this view. Freud believed that most neuroses in later life are the result of repressed sexual desire. Dewey, the father of "progressive education," did not want to "inhibit" children, and so opposed external structure on their conduct. Dewey encouraged children's self-expression and self-discovery, favoring personality development over character development. This trend of de-emphasizing character development has continued in child development circles for most of the last century, and the results have grown progressively worse as these wrong-headed theories have gained ground over common sense and traditional wisdom.

In more recent years, some apologists for 20th century child development theories have held that "nurture" matters little, as behavior is all genetically encoded anyway. Judith Harris' 1998 book The Nurture Assumption argued that the way parents treat their children does not really matter. Harris asserts that whatever traits genes do not determine, peers do. While Harris' thesis may have let parents off the hook, it is fatally flawed.

At the other extreme are those social experimenters who believe that virtually all of mankind's differences can be erased through education, and who advocate government intrusion into child development at younger and younger ages. Their egalitarian bias has led them to argue that anyone can be anything, because virtually nothing is genetically determined. These theorists have tried to argue that even traditional masculine and feminine differences are socially conditioned, not inborn.

The reality lies between these two extremes. Human beings are the result of both nature and nurture. Each human being is born with a variety of genetic predispositions and limits, but education and family environment can make a big difference in whether children will develop their full potential. To recognize that some are born smarter, stronger or faster is simply to face reality. However, virtually all human beings can improve their levels of performance with training and diligent effort. Helping children to recognize and develop their talents and aptitudes is essential!

A March 27, 2000 Newsweek article titled "The Nature of Nurturing" discussed a 12-year study conducted by Dr. David Reiss of George Washington University. Reiss studied 720 pairs of adolescents with various degrees of genetic connection, ranging from identical twins to stepsiblings, and observed the ways that genetic tendencies are either encouraged or stifled by parental response. While there is a whole range of genetic predispositions, Reiss saw that parental training and influence are essential to bringing out the best in a child.

Few educators or social scientists understand human nature. Is it basically good or is it bad? The answer is provided in the Genesis 3 account of our first parents and the two trees to which they were introduced. Contrary to God's command, they took the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Since then, human nature and civilization have been a blend of that fatal mixture. Human nature is not intrinsically good; character training and development is vital. Modern society's failure to recognize this has led to a generation that is learning to "feel good about itself" without developing those desirable traits that are worth feeling good about!

The Role of Discipline in Character Development

Discipline has become almost a dirty word to many in our society. Some believe, like Dewey, that structure is inherently stifling and that a child should be free to "discover." Others equate discipline with abuse. Because of some instances of horrible abuse, many in contemporary culture are prepared to throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water, showing an aversion to discipline in general and to corporal punishment in particular. This wrong-headed approach has made our children the real losers.

But what is character? Why is it important? How is it developed?

Character has to do with a person's fundamental pattern of behavior. It must be developed over time and through circumstances. It is what determines the moral worth of an individual.

Self-discipline is one of the most vital aspects of good character. Without a disciplined approach to life, we will habitually take the path of least resistance. We will quit whenever we get tired or lose interest, whether an important job remains left to be done or not. When faced with moral dilemmas, it takes self-discipline to choose the high and noble alternative, rather than to take the easy way.

Part of the problem lies in defining "good character." In recent decades, the moral consensus in America and in much of the rest of the Western world has collapsed. No longer are such values as honesty, hard work, chastity and modesty universally acclaimed. Having jettisoned the Bible as a moral compass, modern man is adrift in a turbulent sea, and does not know either his desired goal or how to reach it!

To train a child, parents must have a clear sense of the results they seek. Without specific goals in mind, training will be haphazard at best. Using the timeless values of God's word, rather than the trendy ideas of social theorists, is the basis of developing truly good character in children.

With the goals clearly in mind, the next step is to form a strategy for achieving those goals. Parents must persevere and stick to what is right—even though modern society disapproves of many Biblical models of good behavior. Remember, also, that you cannot help someone else to be firmly anchored in life unless you are anchored yourself!

As we look at the great 20th century child-rearing experiment, we must conclude that permissiveness has not simply been a failure; it has been a disaster! The idea that permissive "love" would make discipline unnecessary, was fuzzyheaded, shallow thinking. The reality is that proper discipline is the result of genuine love. After all, God corrects every son whom He loves (Proverbs 3:12).

Increasingly in American society, the little schoolroom terrors are referred for psychiatric evaluation so that they can be medicated into compliance. But the real problem for most is that they have simply never received proper discipline, either at home or at school. They have never learned to inhibit their impulses and to control their behavior. The failure to learn respect for parental authority in the home carries over to the schoolroom and the playground.

How is respect for parental authority established in the home? Too many parents are beside themselves with frustration because their youngsters are defiant and yell and call them names, or perhaps tell them to "shut up" when they try to correct them. Dr. James Dobson, a noted psychologist and author, explained the answer to this dilemma very simply and succinctly in his landmark book, Dare to Discipline. Writes Dr. Dobson: "When a youngster tries this kind of stiff-necked rebellion, you had better take it out of him, and pain is a marvelous purifier. When nose-to-nose confrontation occurs between you and your child, it is not the time to have a discussion about the virtues of obedience. It is not the occasion to send him in his room to pout… You have drawn a line in the dirt… Who is going to win? Who has the most courage? Who is in charge here? If you do not answer these questions conclusively for the child, he will precipitate other battles designed to ask them again and again" (p. 27).

Dr. Dobson is not endorsing—nor are we—the abuse or harming of children. Too many parents nag and threaten their children, yet put off imposing appropriate punishment. Finally, out of frustration and anger, they lash out at their children, perhaps yelling at and shaking them. This is not right! The scripture tells us that a parent who loves his child will discipline him early (Proverbs 13:24). Punishment, to be effective, must be swift and sure. It must be appropriate to the age of the child and to the offense. Most importantly, a loving parent who is fully in control of his or her, own feelings and emotions should administer it.

Children (and all of the rest of us, for that matter) tend to repeat conduct that brings desired results and to avoid conduct that brings unpleasant results. Unfortunately, too many parents reinforce the very behavior that they want to eliminate, by giving in to children when they whine, cry or are defiant. Consistency and persistence are absolutely necessary to provide proper reinforcement in childrearing.

What is happening to our kids as a result of a century of social experimentation? Tragic consequences, that is what! Millions are over-medicated and under-disciplined. They are growing up with fatally flawed value systems. Seduced by decadence and materialism, they suffer from emptiness at the spiritual core of their being.

The Creator of mankind sent along an instruction book for His creation—the Holy Bible. It offers guidance in instilling right values. The principles of loving discipline, guidance and teaching are illustrated throughout this book of books. Rather than participate in the tragically flawed child development experiments that marked the 20th century, parents can opt for a far better way. By coming to understand and apply the principles revealed by the Creator, our children can be a joy to us and to others. Not only that, they will be equipped to face life with solid values and healthy self-discipline, thereby enabling them to lead happy, productive lives of their own.

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