Disastrous Times for Children
On the surface, things have never looked so good for the child as in this final part of the twentieth century. There is prosperity and freedom. The threat of the child labour of the previous century or of hunger found elsewhere on the globe is nonexistent for children in the Western world. Children seem to get whatever they want. It all appears rosy. Indeed, it seems small wonder that this century has been called the century of the child.
Dr. G. Van Bruggen, a Dutch pediatrician who has also served for years in a refugee camp in Thailand, has spoken up to declare that a veritable disaster for children is taking place in the Western world. Her words and keen insight demand a hearing. What follows is based on an extensive report (in Nederlands Dagblad of 4 October 1988) of a speech that she delivered this past fall.
The future of the child does not look very rosy. The reality is that a disaster for children is under way. According to Dr. Van Bruggen, the reason for this disaster is that parents no longer seem to realize that their children need them. When television reports on catastrophes in the Third World, haggard children with tears on their cheeks are shown. But, as those children are the victims of poverty, so children in the Western world are victims of prosperity.
Dr. Van Bruggen pointed out that concepts about children are changing. No longer can it be taken for granted that children are brought up by both parents. That happens less and less. Yet, a child wants to know where he or she comes from. Children are materially well-provided for today; but, that's far too often where it's left at. Indeed, because parents take such good material care of their children, they often think that they can make all kinds of demands on them. Their child or children must be accustomed to meet the demands of the parents. This attitude on the part of the parents brings the message that children are there for the parents and not the parents for the children. Children sense this and feel rejected. Their hurt shows itself in more vandalism, more pregnancies, more suicides, and more cases of anorexia nervosa (prolonged loss of appetite leading even to death) and alcoholism among youth. Parents in turn more often than before feel inclined to give up their role as parents when problems surface. There is no room in their world for difficulties with their children. The result is confusion for children who realize that they who have been conceived and born have no guarantee of receiving the social and psychological care that they need.
The Way Out
The Bible tells us that central to the task of raising children is the commandment to honour your father and your mother. The concept of authority is central here. However, also Christians often have difficulty understanding what that means. Often power and force are confused with authority. The issue is not: who is the strongest, but who is responsible for who? The goal of Christian upbringing is to guide to maturity. This implies (cf. Hebrews 5:14) that the child learns to distinguish between what is good and bad. The current understanding is that good is whatever makes you feel good. However, according to the Bible, good is to fear God.
Dr. Van Bruggen continued by noting that in 1875 scientists discovered that a child originates from the union of a sperm cell and an ovum. This is in line with the biblical thought that father and mother need to be at the beginning of new life together. This is a principle that is often neglected with artificial insemination. As a result the child becomes unsure of its origin. The results of this will become evident within the next ten years.
Another thought that Dr. Van Bruggen mentioned is that a pregnancy does not last nine but eighteen months. After birth the child is still completely dependent on the mother. It isn't until nine months later that the child can move independently of its mother.
Children and Parents
The child must not be seen as something on which one can place his demands. Children need to be accepted as such. When parents place all kinds of basically selfish demands on their children, then our Christian families become suffocating places to be.
Furthermore, parents must give guidance by their own example of life. In this way children must learn what faithfulness, love, and holiness mean. When all sorts of problems surface among young people, for example, wrong attitudes to marriage and sexuality, then one must ask, what kind of parents do they have? Have these things never been discussed in a biblical way?
Another point is, of course, that if parents have faithfully instructed their children in the ways of the Lord, then the time comes to step back. It is possible that one's child makes mistakes; but then children have to have the possibility of making mistakes. The pediatrician added that when people come to her with a child that is not able to or will not walk, then the cause is usually that they have not had a chance to fall.
These items from the speech of Dr. Van Bruggen give much food for thought. Children need parents, both of them. The parent-child relationship should not be based on the parents' needing the children or using them for their purpose. The calling of parents is a beautiful and holy one. It is also difficult and crucial. No matter how good the Christian education may be that our children receive outside the home, the education they receive inside the parental home is normally decisive for their well-being in the deepest sense of the word. That could be a frightening thought which could lead to despair were it not for the fact that our children are also God's covenant children. And He will hear the cries of those who seek their guidance and strength from Him alone, also for this area of life, even at the end of the twentieth century, when society sometimes appears set on destroying itself in its attitude to what is still called the family unit.