Our Sons and Daughters: a generation of narcissistic children?
In a recent article in a national newspaper, a leading psychologist warned both parents and schools that the constant drive to encourage and build up self-esteem in school children had ‘gone too far’.
At a recent Headteachers’ Conference, Dr Carol Craig said that adults today were too afraid to correct children and the mistakes they made in case it caused them upset and destroyed their self-esteem. The psychologist said that ‘We are wrong in thinking we have to get the “I” bigger.’
Although I do not know Dr Craig’s personal beliefs with respect to the gospel, she identifies a fundamental flaw at the very heart of our generation.
Why is that as individuals we are unable to receive even the most constructive and loving of criticism humbly and for our own good? Why is that our generation craves continual praise and affirmation? And why is it that we are unable to submit ourselves to order, authority and discipline?
The Bible teaches us that there is an intrinsic link between the discipline and teaching we receive from our parents while young and the way in which we respond to constructive criticism and discipline in later life.
My impression, having listened to and met church leaders over many years, is that this distrust and hostility towards discipline has seeped into the very fabric of evangelicalism.
The spirit behind this distrust and suspicion of accountability and discipline is most clearly seen in relation to youth work within the church.
Did you know that churches struggle to keep youth workers and that the average time span of youth leaders working in a church is twelve months? From my observations it is unsurprising that the greatest opposition and difficulty facing youth leaders originates not from the young people, but from the parents.
The spirit of our times is such that many parents believe that their children can do no wrong and that to correct them is somehow detrimental to their formative nature. Many refuse to hear any wrong about their child, or to accept that sometimes they need to be corrected. The youth leader is far too frequently at the sharp end of condemnation from a parent whose child has behaved badly and has subsequently been corrected.
A symptom of the ‘I’ culture identified by Dr Craig is that children are pushed centre stage, are flattered and treated as if they were mini-adults. The opinion of children is elevated and given the highest of priorities and in many, many families, the child is given as much authority as an adult and they are allowed to be the arbiter of what they will or will not do. The word ‘no’ is too rarely heard in many households.
The Bible tells us that such an approach is sheer folly. Scripture instructs loving parents to discipline and train their children. Scripture envisages that this training will start with the child at a very early age and then continue through to adulthood to the end of our lives.
Although encouragement is both Biblical and hugely important, there is also a time when discipline is required. Please do not misunderstand me, I am not speaking specifically of physical punishment, rather I am addressing the calling upon all godly parents to ensure that their children are brought up to know what is right and what is wrong.
Proverbs 5:11-14 talks of the consequences of a lack of discipline:
11and at the end of your life you groan,
when your flesh and body are consumed,
12and you say, “How I hated discipline,
and my heart despised reproof!
13I did not listen to the voice of my teachers
or incline my ear to my instructors.
14 I am at the brink of utter ruin
in the assembled congregation.”
This passage talks of the consequences of ignoring discipline. Constant encouragement without the balance of discipline leads to ‘utter ruin’. This Proverb is affirming that words of encouragement alone can seem very attractive and will make the child happy. Encouragement without discipline whilst working in the short term, severely inhibits the child’s capacity to be able to deal with life when disaster and calamity occur.
Although the desire to ensure that a child is happy and content sounds entirely admirable, it does not prepare them for life and the real world. Once away from the cushioning of the parental home, the school and the church, the reality of life can be too much. The child will then regret the freedom and liberty it was given.
A child not taught properly, that is constantly encouraged without the balance of discipline and correction, will enter the world totally defenceless. Christians are aware that there is a spiritual battle in the world and in the church. Unless we are taught the correct way to use the Gospel of Christ as our defence against the world, we will be submerged and defenceless when the problems and difficulties occur.
Ephesians 6: 10-18 shows us how to prepare for those problems and difficulties.
10Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13Therefore take up the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 14Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 18praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints…
Ephesians tells us to ‘Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth…(6:14) which involves us being able to see ourselves as we really are, without blinkers. Many commentators see the word ‘truth’ here as meaning ‘integrity’. If we teach our children how to understand what is meant by truth and integrity, then no matter what difficulties and attacks they encounter in life, they will be able to face them and deal with them. It is a lot more difficult for us to be attacked in spiritual warfare if we are men and women of integrity.
Rather than this being taught to children, the opposite is extolled: that it is winning which is important, being first, getting our own way, doing what we want and not what is right.
We are called to teach our children the truth of Scripture, rather than encouraging selfishness.
Ephesians also talks about the breastplate of righteousness, ‘…having put on the breastplate of righteousness…’ (Ephesians 6:14b). Often we stand in our own righteousness and encourage our children to do the same – they are right and if anything goes wrong then it was not their fault. Instead of standing in the righteousness of Christ and correcting our children in a loving way when they are wrong, we let them continue in the same behaviour.
We need to teach our children the truth of the Gospel, the importance of what Christ has said and done. We need to teach them to be strong, strong in the Lord, to know the difference between right and wrong and to stand firm.
Do your children understand what salvation is? The helmet of salvation in Ephesians covers the mind. Children these days need this protection more than at any time before. They are bombarded with pressure to conform to today’s standards from their peers, the television, cinema, magazines. There is so much pressure on them to do what is wrong.
We need to teach them to trust God and to trust everything He says in his Word. This is taught by both word and example. If, as parents, they see that you are actively trusting and pursuing the Lord at home, in ministry at church, at work, they will see that your faith is real and that your God, our God, is altogether trustworthy.
Parents, this is a hard lesson to teach, but as you live this out and your children receive the gospel and see your confidence, they will learn to walk in the faith, have full confidence and trust in God. Because of this they will be able to withstand any pressure.
‘…and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.’ (Ephesians 6:17). Do we teach our children the Word of God so that they are equipped and able to handle the Scriptures? Do we pray for our children? Our young people are involved in spiritual warfare few of our generation have had to face. The war is brutal, savage and cruel.
This country does not have any reason to be proud of the way it has dealt and continues to deal with our children and young people. The same can be said of the church. The church cannot say to the world ‘Look, this is how we train our children… look how they behave…how they act…how they stand firm in adversity’. If the church cannot say this then it is no wonder we have cities where gangs of kids roam, terrorising people. Our society has sent these same children out into the world defenceless and without any real hope. We have left them to set their own standards and their levels of what constitutes right and wrong.
If the church acted together and gave our young people its full attention, encouraging them, training them, being there for them, supporting them and disciplining them in love a new generation will rise up, grow and mature into strong men and women of God, full of integrity, full of peace and fully equipped for the battle ahead.
Although this may betray my age … there was a song in the 70’s by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young called ‘Teach Your Children Well’. Good advice.