Submitted by Rachel Weaver
One of the biggest problems for parents today is that they work hard at training and instruction their children about the Lord and His ways, but lack a clearly defined goal for that training. They know they want their children to know God and have godly character, but they are not sure what the final product is supposed to look like…. It would be far better for parents to define a goal and then create a plan to accomplish it. There is truth to the saying, “If you aim at nothing you will always hit it.” Christian parents must have a clearly defined target for their children’s growth.
In order to accomplish God’s goals for child rearing we must first identify them. As Christian parents our most obvious goal is to bring our children to salvation. Second to that God’s most basic goal for training children is encapsulated in Ephesians 6:4. There, parents are told, regarding their children, “bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.’ The Greek word for ‘bring them up’ holds the key. The word is ektrepho which means to rear to maturity. The primary goal, then of training and instruction, is to rear up children to maturity. For us to bring children to maturity will require that we have a clear definition of what maturity is.
What is Maturity?
Based on a broad study of the Old Testament and a concentrated study of Proverbs, it is clear that maturity is characterized by at least three elements: Self control, wisdom, and responsibility, which can be defined as follows:
• Self control: not being ruled by passions, emotions, desires, wishes or curiosity; freedom from having to do what one feels like doing; the ability to choose to do what is right; fosters the selflessness necessary for the love of others.
• Wisdom: understanding; insight; ability to learn from experience; ability to make sound decisions; handling stressful problems with a level head, possible only when not ruled by passion (self-controlled).
• Responsibility: accepting personal accountability for one’s own actions; faithful and conscientious work habits; integrity; reliability, possible only when not ruled by passion (self-controlled).
What are the signs of immaturity and self-indulgence?
Self-indulgence is the drive which demands the satisfaction of one’s wants and desires. Consider the following symptom list. Do these symptoms generally characterize your children?
They are indulged if they lack self-control.
• Self-indulgent people rarely say “NO” to themselves.
• They have a difficult time doing in moderation anything that gratifies; they frequently over-do-it.
• They do whatever they feel like or are so used to having their own way that they think they should have whatever they want.
• The satisfaction of their own will is foremost in their life – others are considered second, if at all.
They are indulged if they are self-absorbed.
• Self-centeredness so rules self-indulgent people that they live as if the world revolves around them – life is interpreted by how it affects them.
• Whenever self-centered children approach their parents with a question (which may be frequent), it usually involves something they want for themselves. They have few questions regarding the well-being of others.
• Ones who are self-consumed, push and lobby parents constantly to get what they want; persisting even after being refused.
• May think of others, but only to satisfy themselves.
• Insist on having their ‘rights’ to personal decisions and ‘living their own life.”
• Think they deserve everything that is given to them, and are unappreciative despite the feelings of others; not easily satisfied.
• They are seldom happy; complain and whine the majority of the time; often discontent.
• Complain about food or any gift set before them.
• They are preoccupied with fun and self-gratification.
• Expect life to be exciting; demand entertainment; frequently are bored.
• Expect to have their own way; express blatant irritation when desires are thwarted. Impatient; demand other’s immediate attention.
They are indulged if they lack wisdom.
• Their desire for gratification rules them, affecting all of their decisions and actions; they are impulsive and lack discretion.
• They consistently squander money (or save it for the intent of spending it on themselves).
• They do not learn from their mistakes; they repeatedly get into trouble for the same offense.
• They cannot be left alone and trusted to make wise decisions.
• In response to attacks and offenses from younger siblings, they retaliate as if they were small children themselves.
• When confronted by problems they foolishly ‘bury their heads in the sand’ and pretend the problem will go away.
They are indulged if they are irresponsible.
• When they sin they habitually deny their responsibility.
• Nothing is ever their fault. They are a victim of other’s failures. Someone or something else is to blame.
• When they get caught for breaking the rules, they do not see the penalty as the consequence of their choices, but hold responsible the one who caught them or turned them in.
• Even their anger is someone else’s fault.
• They resent work or anything that requires discipline.
• They are lazy; they habitually play during chore time and look for ways to get out of work.
• They despise opportunities to serve others, especially their siblings.
• The thought of serving others rarely crosses their mind.
• In response to assigned chores roll their eyes, complain; disappear – before, during, and after the task, do as little as possible.
• After completion of the task, refuse to ask, “Is there anything more I can do?”
Some parents read a list like this and respond with excitement – their children are on the right path! Others, however, respond with discouragement – they thought their children were heading in a good direction, but they they realize they are off course. PARENTS – do not despair! Thank the Lord for the timely course correction. Yes, there is work to be done, but effort invested into developing maturity is never wasted.
Using the Goal of Maturity as a Basis for Parental Decisions
To restate our premise – a proper understanding of maturity and immaturity is foundational for effective parenting, for without a clear understanding of the goals of parenting we have no frame for reference for parental decisions. To evaluate our parental decisions we simply need to determine: What will this activity, organization, or relationship foster within our children – maturity or immaturity? It is really that simple.
The problem is that as modern American parents we have come to believe the misnomer that children will eventually reach maturity by themselves, and little input from us is needed. Rather than making maturity our primary goal for them, we mistakenly substitute as goal – a happy and fulfilling childhood. Consequently, from the time our children are born, we feed their desire for self-indulgence and accidentally keep them immature. By the time they reach their teen years they are just like the other ‘normal’ self-involved teenagers who parents also made a fun childhood their chief goal. Since so many American parents indulge their children, America is filled with immature, gratification-oriented teenagers. National researchers and experts, not realizing that teenage rebellion and self-absorption is a phenomenon of this century, and unique to only a few affluent nations like ours, have concluded that such behavior is a natural and temporary phase of growing up. Parents expect and accept it. Most teens to grow up, but sadly, too few become mature.
Although most of us as parents love our children, our commitment to their happiness harms them. Indulged children are unprepared for adulthood. They have been sent the message that their happiness is of supreme importance, so they grow up thinking it is owed to them. They ultimately lack the self-discipline necessary for successful employment, and their self-centeredness will cause strife in their marriages. Then when their marriages fail, they will not consider it their fault – they will be innocent “victims” of their spouse’s shortcomings. From the time they are young, our children must learn that life is not about fun and entertainment, nor is it about personal happiness and self-gratification. It is about responsibility and serving others. It is finding joy in honoring God and loving our neighbors.
What has life taught us?
Those of us who have lived at least 25 years have learned that life is hard – things don’t always go our way – we don’t always get what we want in life. Our children must be prepared in their youth for the challenges they will find in life. They must learn they cannot have everything they want, and that they can endure quit well with less than they hoped for. To mature properly, children must learn while they are still toddlers to obey their parents quickly and without resistance, and to endure hard situations humbly. With their parents’ help, they can learn as early as possible to die to themselves, preparing them to live for Christ. Otherwise, as teenagers, they will remain self-centered, rebellious, and far from God. May we as parents be faithful to do what is right.
©June 1999 by Reb Bradley from The Heartbeat of the Remnant