Training Children or Letting Them Decide

Each generation does parenting differently.  My grandparents, (all four of them born in the late 1800s) for example, paid little attention to their kids, never catered to them or played with them and lived according to the old adage, “Children should be seen but not heard.”

Consequently, the children of that generation, realizing how detached they felt from mothers and fathers, who rarely showed physical affection or deference to their kids, tried to compensate by being a bit more personally involved with their own offspring.  Those parents were the generation of the Holocaust.  It was their children, who, then, sought to lavish their  kids with many of the things their parents couldn’t afford to buy them, and so my generation did its utmost to make sure our children had the best of everything – homes, vacations, clothing, a good education and all the rest.

Somehow, though, that generation went even one step further, they decided that their kids were people too – people whose voices should be heard, considered and even respected.  It was those belief which led them to allow their children’s wishes, desires and demands be realized.  In short, it was the end to training children in the way they should go.

How did that play out?  For one thing, we witnessed a great deal of public meltdowns when parents attempted to say “no.”  But it’s from that point where the kids, quickly, figured out, how to wear down their parents, embarrass them publicly and cause them to acquiesce to their demands.  It worked!

Today’s generation, maybe not all, but certainly a great deal of them, make the rules, get to decide for themselves and don’t look to their parents as the ones who should shape their ideas, thoughts, personalities or behavior.

And how has that played out?  It’s sad to say, but so many children, today, lack a real sense of self.  They are so uncertain about who they are, for what they stand, or what they hope to achieve in life, that they are easily swayed, influenced and, sadly, fall prey to trends and fads.  Cleverly manipulated, many will “go with the flow” – whatever that flow is, without as much as putting up the slightest fight. They want to be like everyone else, and no price is too heavy to pay for that much-cherished popularity and acceptance!

This brings me back to my own childhood, at the age of 12, when I went to the World’s Fair in Queens, NY.  I wandered into a particular exhibit, which happened to belong to a specific religious persuasion which was not mine.  Although I was a minor, these individuals spoke to me about why their faith was the only genuine one – something they would not be permitted to do these days, by law.  Because I had been trained with a strong set of moral values and was also a student of scripture, at that tender age, I was able to hold my own and tell them why their claims were erroneous.

Speaking of scripture, Proverbs, the biblical book written by the wisest man ever, King Solomon, speaks directly to this conundrum.  He wrote, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6. It seems to me that you can’t go wrong by taking advice from the wisest man who ever lived.  In effect, he was promoting the idea that vulnerable children, who are not given principles, values, correction and direction – all of which constitute “training,” will end up on the opposite spectrum.

But how could we think any differently?  Animal owners know that if they don’t train their pets to do exactly what they want, that pet will end up being an unwanted liability to the family.  No one will enjoy it or want to be around it.  This is the reason for pet obedience schools. So why, on earth, would parents invest in training their dogs but not their kids?

An untrained child will become an embarrassment to their parents, causing onlookers to come to the conclusion that someone either tried to take the easy way out, or didn’t care for their child properly, or, the worst of all conclusions, was under the false impression that allowing a child to decide for themselves, is a desirable hallmark of democracy and equity.

Yet nothing could be further from the truth.  Kids, as in a cultivated garden, need constant care, constant weeding (correction), constant watering (love and affection), constant planting (sowing values, principles, sound wisdom into them), for without those things, they will either wither up (become hardened and jaded by having lost their innocence) and, all too soon, lose their beauty and sweetness.

It’s important to know that children very much want boundaries.  They translate into a sense of feeling safe, because someone cares enough to draw the line of what is allowed and what will surely hurt them.

Giving a child a strong sense of self, what is important in life, the things in which are worthwhile investing and how they should conduct themselves when visiting others, when receiving gifts, when greeting people, etc., are all part of essential training which prepares them for the many challenges of adulthood and for a world whose many sordid actors are vying for their hearts, minds and souls.

Training children in today’s world, is, perhaps, the most important endeavor that anyone could have.  Especially these days, when there is so much confusion and so many perplexing paths for kids to take, parents must understand that if they are unwilling to do the hard work of training, someone else will be waiting in the wings to have a “go” at their kids. It may explain the ubiquitous gender confusion which is happening in unprecedented numbers these days.  We’ve never seen anything like it, and, yet, it’s spreading into every school, every socio-economic sector and through every religious persuasion.

After recently having spoken to two Israeli grandmothers, both said that in their granddaughters’ classes, a great number of fellow students are very uncertain, now, as to which gender they really belong.  Again, nothing like this has ever happened in such a widespread way.  Could it be that kids, who have grown up without proper training, end up not knowing who they are – even when it comes to male or female?

It would seem so, and that would reveal an urgent necessity to get back to basics.  In that regard, there’s no better place to start than with the words of King Solomon who admonished parents to train up their children in the way they should go.  Unfortunately, in his case, he didn’t seem to follow through on his own great advice, but the good news is that it may not be too late for the rest of us!

***The writer is the author of “Mistake-Proof Parenting” available on Amazon.


About the Author
A former Jerusalem elementary and middle-school principal and the granddaughter of European Jews who arrived in the US before the Holocaust. Making Aliyah in 1993, she is retired and now lives in the center of the country with her husband.

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