July 25, 2012

To Be a Child

“Working for early maturity while prolonging innocence.”

That’s a portion of the parenting philosophy espoused by a very wise friend, an approach my husband and I have adopted as well. But what does it mean?

“Early maturity” means we need to help our children grow past their natural tendencies toward childish attitudes, such as selfishness, and childish behavior like temper tantrums. Instead, we need to encourage and empower them to develop and practice positive character qualities – generosity, patience, self-control, diligence, and respect for others, for example – found in mature individuals. We do this by providing them with knowledge of worthy examples – Jesus, Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Teresa, Abraham Lincoln – by talking to them about what’s right and wrong, by properly correcting them when they stray, and by striving to be positive role models ourselves. Character training is hard work, but it is possible, and it’s worth it. If we help our children develop such early maturity, we’ve given them invaluable life skills.

On the other hand, we need also to be about “prolonging innocence.” That is, we should encourage and enable our kids to remain childlike in their attitudes and behavior. They need time to play – not at violent or self-indulgent video games but using their imaginations with hands-on toys and using their bodies in active, outdoor play. They need to be sheltered – yes, sheltered – from the pop culture that teaches six-year old girls to dress like prostitutes hunting for boyfriends and eight-year old boys to act like “gangstas.” We need to stop exposing them to music, movies, and books with adult themes just because we want to experience something “grown-up;” in fact, we need to reevaluate our values if we crave unwholesome entertainment at all. We need to encourage them to remain close to us as parents even through the teen years so that we – not their same-aged peers – provide guidance and security through turbulent emotions and tough situations.

Unfortunately, it’s rather obvious that our culture has it backwards; much in our society communicates that our kids should embrace “delayed maturity and abbreviated innocence.” But we don’t need to go with the flow. It doesn’t matter what your friends or family members do with their kids. It doesn’t matter what messages Hollywood and pop music try to infect them with. You can still get it right with your own; you can still allow your child to be a child in the right sense of the word. Those of us with such a worthy goal can stand with and support each other. If enough of us do it, the culture just might follow suit.

Photo Credit: marjanhols


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