When parents present a child for baptism, they must rise and make several promises before the sacrament is administered. One of these promises is: Do you promise, as father and mother, to instruct your child in this doctrine, as soon as he (she) is able to understand, and to have him (her) instructed therein to the utmost of your power? Instruction in the biblical teaching (= doctrine) is so important that at baptism parents must publicly promise to do this.
Over the years, this promise has often been used as the basis for catechetical instruction. It has also been used in support of reformed education. Teaching at the schools should not contradict the biblical teaching as summarized in the confessions. We may be thankful for opportunities God gave to make it possible for parents to establish and maintain schools in this country where the instruction is based on God’s word.
This is not the only thing mentioned in the promise of baptism, however. The other promise is that father and mother will themselves instruct their child in the biblical teaching. Actually, that is the first part of the promise. Before parents let others instruct their children, they themselves have the duty to instruct their children. Father and mother remain the primary teachers of their children.
There is much biblical support for this promise. To give only one example, God said to his people Israel:
These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.Deuteronomy 6:6, 7
Today, it is much emphasized that there ought to be a close relationship between parents and their children. This emphasis is correct and fully biblical. Children are given to parents for care, and parents have to guide them daily, protect them from going in wrong directions, and teach them to live in love and obedience to God. God wants parents to talk with their children, and teach them how to live before the Lord. God prescribed continuous PG, Parental Guidance.
Such guidance extends to all of life. Parents have to give direction to their children in the different areas of our complex life. I want to limit myself here to only one small, but increasingly influential part of life at the end of the 20th century: movies. Two factors have been instrumental in making movies a major force in today’s culture. Technological advances have perfected the movie to become a very attractive and forceful means of communication. Furthermore, the general population has more time for leisure activities than they have ever had before.
If my count is correct, over a two week period about 412 movies could be watched on (cable) TV. That means, every week there are more than 200 to choose from. That number does not even include the many TV series the stations put on to lock the public into their channel. In addition, the local movie theatres advertise their selection, which can be watched on impressively big screens for the price of a hamburger lunch. Movies are very popular as entertainment. But what about Parental Guidance?
Let me refer to an article by Dr. Alvin Poussaint, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.1 In his profession, he sees it as his duty to keep up with the newest movies. One afternoon he watched an R-rated movie. The graphic sex, profanity and violence seemed to him no worse than usual. However, when one of the characters was shown after having taken a gunshot in the face, a child in the audience screamed. The mother hissed to the child to make her shut up, and slapped her in the face.
Dr. Poussaint, however, wonders how this child could be in the audience.
As a psychiatrist, he is convinced that watching sex and violence is damaging. When children see violence, they begin to think it is normal to be violent. Others become extremely fearful. And when they see scenes of adult sexuality, they are embarrassed. They may also begin to believe they should behave like that. He advocates stricter laws prohibiting young children from viewing inappropriate movies.
What strikes me in this event is the attitude of the mother. She, obviously, was totally insensitive to what the movie did to her child. She wanted to have her stimulating entertainment, and never stopped to consider its impact, not only on her child, but also on herself. She must have become desensitized. Carried along by the gripping storyline, one easily loses the sense for what is good and healthy.
Another striking aspect of this article is Dr. Poussaint’s own view of movies. He takes it for granted that the movies which influence the American mind contain scenes with graphic sex, profanity and violence. A certain amount of these ingredients is only to be expected.
It is in this world that we live, and in which the children of the church grow up. They need a lot of PG, if we do not want them to grow up permanently damaged by the pictures stored in their memory.
PG – How?
For an evaluation of movies in general, I can refer to a separate publication.2 Here, we discuss how parents should help their children meet the challenge movies present.
It is not hard to find information concerning movies. A first impression can be found in TV guides. Children will have a hard time convincing their parents they can watch movies with titles such as ‘Carnal Knowledge’. A brief description like: “Jilted lovers spy on their ex-partners and plot revenge” does not recommend the movie, either.
The new movie of Stephen Spielberg about the landing of allied troops in Normandy is advertised as beginning with a protracted and gruesome scene of slaughter on the beach. The soldiers who in 1944 had to go through this experience, will have been damaged by it, but they, at any rate, knew it served the liberation of Europe. Portraying it for people today, and without that motivation, will mean needlessly exposing them to a scarring experience.
Another good way of providing guidance is to look up the ads (or even the reviews) in the papers. To read the warning in the papers most parents would need an extra pair of glasses, but it is worth the trouble. If we do not allow our children to use coarse language, would we want them to watch a movie labelled as Adult Accompaniment under fourteen: Coarse Language? Not to mention another movie which children under fourteen are not supposed to be watching for the following reasons: coarse language, sexual content, substance abuse, not recommended for children. If this is the normal fare, then movie theatres cannot be recommended. Parents can support their older children not to watch movies that lower our resistance against sin against God’s commandments. That applies not only to sin against the first commandment, but also sin against the fifth and the seventh commandments.
Another aspect of Parental Guidance applies to television in particular. Watch movies and shows together with your children. Look at the movie as a guest who spins wonderful tales. A guest is expected to comply with the rules of the house. Do not allow the intruder to become the boss in the house. Discuss the movie together as parents and children, and send it packing if it does not want to behave.
Finally, movies often have a message. That applies even to ‘innocent’ movies such as Lion King and Pocahontas. Try to look through the fluff to understand what the movie is driving at. And alert your children to the underlying theme, as well. As opposed to parents, young people today grow up in a world where movies are a normal part of daily life. They have become a dominating force in moulding people’s outlook. Parents should not give up their responsibility. They have more wisdom and experience than their children. According to God’s institution and his command, they should guide their children in the way of the Lord.