Monday, 7 May 2012

Family First

"And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God". (Romans 12: 2).

Source for the image above here.

Did you know that a survey in the English newspaper, The Daily Mail, reported that a fifth of all 4 year olds has a TV in their bedroom?  And did you also know that as many as 90 per cent of 8 - 16 year olds have accessed explicit images on the internet?

Whilse these figures are in themselves shocking, to us it is equally shocking that children as young as this should be allowed to have access to televisions and computers unsupervised.  No child of 4 needs a TV in their bedroom - when on earth would they be watching it?  Especially alone - a bedroom is for sleeping in!   Of course, everyone knows (or should know) of the dangers of the internet - but still, some children are allowed to use computers out of sight of their parents - and once again, this does not have to be so.  No child of any age should be made to sit alone in their bedroom or study, surfing the internet for hours with no supervision.  Unrestricted access to the internet - even for adults - is dangerous and unwholesome and can lead to many problems when done in excess.

These figures tell us a great deal about what is wrong with the permissive and secular society in which we live today, where people are motivated by their wants and impulses, instead of by what is morally correct.  The damage to children that inappropriate and unsupervised use of media like the TV and internet does, has far-reaching consequences.  One hundred years ago, when there was no TV and the concept of the internet had yet even to be dreamed of, society was a very different place.  According to the website "History Today", the crime rate in England per 100,000 population rose from 249 in 1901, to 6,674 in 1984 - an enormous increase not just attributable to changes in the law such as the abolition of capital punishment in 1960.    The type of crime has changed too - as recently as in the last 40 years, the yearly number of murder convictions has doubled.  In 1962 very few people owned a TV - nowadays, most households have more than one.

"And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up". (Deuteronomy 6: 7).

This is God's instruction for us as parents - not just to teach our children the principles of a Godly life, but to set an example to them by our own behaviour.  It would be hypocritical to do otherwise - but yet, how many of us do have "double standards" that we practise, in the area of child-rearing?

Children are born with inquisitive, hungry minds.  To them, the whole world and everything in it, is a wonderful invitation to explore.  They have no sense of danger, nor of what is right or wrong - or good or evil.  It is up to us, their parents, to instruct and train them in what is morally and socially acceptable - and to instill in them a knowledge of our Father God, through study of His word, and practise of the principles for daily living that it commands.   It is our responsibility to protect them from the influences of the secular world - as I have spoken of before - and we must do this by instructing and demonstrating to them what is desirable behaviour, and what isn't.  But simply cushioning them from the negative forces of society isn't sufficient - they have to grow a conscience of their own, so that they can be equipped as adults to make wise and sensible choices independently.  And this can only be done, within the enveloping fold of the family environment - the very place where we should be able to feel confident that they are safe.

"Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it". (Proverbs 22: 6).

When our cubs were babies, we did not give much active consideration to the precise details of how we would raise our children.  We seemed to have a natural, shared (though never discussed) assumption, that we would treat them, as our parents had treated us, with the same standards and expectations.  We didn't ever feel that we needed to sit down together and plan how we would raise our children.  It just seemed to happen naturally in the way that it needed to.  We have never used physical admonishment to train our children - we haven't ever found it to be necessary.  Our (and our Church's) interpretation of the passages of scripture that exhorts this ( which is referenced in Proverbs 13: 24, and Proverbs 23: 13 - 14) is that a child should be admonished if they are misbehaving - that indeed is what the Bible teaches - but only when that happens.  If you are able to raise your children to avoid misbehaving in the first place, then obviously, physical admonishment isn't required.  This is how it was for us.  We had standards of behaviour that we expected and our children obeyed us - every time.

You might be thinking that this is impossible - that all children misbehave.  Some people might even argue that teenage rebellion is neccessary so that a child can become fully independent and separate from their parents.  But we have not found this to be so.  Of course, there were - and still are - minor misdemeanours, like leaving shoes in the hallway, or not putting books away in the right place, but we've managed to avoid serious misbehaviour by ...

1.  Setting an example.  As I say above, this is so important - if you can't show that you expect standards of conduct in yourself, then you are never going to be able to achieve them with your children.

2.  Having a happy marriage.  Parents that fight or argue, wives that disrepsect their husbands, and couples that have very different values and goals, will find it difficult to raise obedient and diligent children.

3.  Prioritising time spent together as a family.  You'll often hear couples saying that they think it is important to have separate interests - or even separate groups of friends.  Papa Bear and I don't agree - we like to spend all our free time together - or with our children.  Papa Bear has some hobbies that he enjoys separately from me - but much of the time, Cubby Bear is enjoying them too!  We prefer to be all together as a family just now.  We know it won't last - in a few years, our cubs will likely have families of their own - so we are treasuring these last few years of this season of parenthood and spending as much time as possible with our children as we can.

4.  Homeschooling.  I do honestly believe this is the best way to ensure that children grow up to share the values of their parents - and I say this as someone who was not homeschooled myself.  Papa Bear was - and so were our parents - but until 14 I did attend school - and it took a few years to unlearn some of the worldly behaviours that I had picked up there after I had left.  Thankfully I had Papa Bear to guide me, but if you want to mould your children to be productive, responsible, honest and diligent, keeping them at home with you will result in these character qualities being instilled at a far earlier age - and with far less pain, than if they attend a public school.  The educational priorities that state schools place on their teaching are not those that we had for our cubs - so we chose to teach them at home.  We are very glad that we did - and they are now both studying successfully for higher qualifications at college with equally good predictions for their grades as their classmates, who were educated at school.

5.  Making our faith - and our Father God - a central part of daily life, and a focus for our activities. 

6.  Instilling Godly standards of behaviour from a very early age - and positively reinforcing these.  We've done this by rewarding our children when they behave well - and practising repetitions of good behavioural patterns (such as sitting still in Church, not interrupting when a parent or sibling is speaking, being polite to people in shops etc) until they are ingrained in our children's hearts. 

7.  Having sensible and realistic consequences for misdemeanours - that mean something to the child.  When the cubs were small, if they were bickering over a toy, the toy was removed from sight until they could agree to share nicely.  In those days, we use to go out for lunch after Church - so if they were restless during the service, the meal was cancelled!  Yes, we all had to suffer the result of one person's misdemeanour, but it meant that the motivation to behave well was far stronger - because it benefited everyone, not just one person.  We have found this kind of positive discipline to be very effective, because there is a cause and effect - simply switching or spanking your child only teaches them that there is an unpleasant consequence to their behaviour - not why they have misbehaved.  It removes any sense of responsibility for their behaviour because the punishment is short lived - and doesn't encourage them to grow in self-control.  We have found that our methods of admonishment has led to having children who are considerate, thoughtful and responsible, and who understand the consequences of their actions - not just for them, but equally importantly, for other people too.   I am not suggesting that our methods will work for everyone - we've been blessed with unusually placid and happy children - but they have certainly worked for us.

8.  Avoiding use of the television as a source of entertainment.  We do have a TV - and Papa Bear does like to watch it in the evening to unwind after a hard day at work or when his football team is featured on a sports channel.  But he does screen what we watch - and often, we will watch a DVD that he has checked out for suitability first, rather than just channel-hopping.  Some days the TV stays off altogether.  When the football is on, he and Cubby tend to watch it while Little Bear and I will sit with them to offer support, whilse simultaneously working on a craft project, or reading a book.  That way we are all together though not necessarily all doing the same thing!

9.  Likewise the computer is used as an educational tool, rather than a source of entertainment.   We only got our computer 6 years ago - before then we didn't own one.  A couple of years ago when the cubs had finished their compulsory education and were enrolled in college, we decided to see if we could trust them with it upstairs in Little Bear's bedroom.  It has worked well - we have a filter on it, but we know we can rely on them anyways not to access inappropriate sites - and they don't.   We think this is probably because by then, they were old enough to make wise decisions for themselves about what to access on the internet - decisions guided not just by our example, but by their own desire to serve God and obey the commands of Scripture.  Having a heart to serve God like this is a character quality that takes time to nurture.  If we had allowed them this access when they were younger, and neither responsible nor strongly convicted enough to make sensible choices, then they probably wouldn't have used it so carefully.  In that case, it would have been our fault - not theirs, for giving them a privelige they weren't yet mature enough to use wisely.  This is key to the role of parents of older children - guaging how mature a child is, so that their responsibilities can be allocated appropriately.  Too much freedom is as damaging to a child as too little - a balance needs to be found.

10.  What alternatives are there, for family entertainment, if you don't wish to watch TV or allow your children regular internet access?  Well, here are some that we enjoy as a family ...

  • Jigsaw puzzles - we often have a puzzle spread out on our dining table on a large board that can easily be slipped under the settee when we are eating.  You can buy special mats that will roll up with the jigsaw stuck to it too.  We especially like the range of puzzles that feature the art work of the famous painter, Thomas Kinkade, and we also enjoy doing wildlife puzzles and pictures of pretty outdoor scenes.
  • Cooking - it's great fun to cook a meal together!  The work goes faster when there are several pairs of hands, and somehow the food tastes better when it's been prepared with so much pleasure and love.
  • Decorating - family decorating projects are a tradition in our home.  We've moved house so many times that we have a routine in place now.  Each person is allocated a room (bedrooms for children - kitchen for me, living room for Papa Bear and so on) that they are the "supervisor" of, and they get to choose the decor and how the furniture will be arranged.  We never have much money to spend on decorating or home improvements, so part of the fun is seeing how inventive we can be with our projects.  Once we have it all worked out, we delegate tasks to the rest of the "team" and set to work!  We play music or audio books, or sing together, and it is always good fun, helping each other out.  The result is a home that has been lovingly put together by all the family!
  • Bible study, prayer and Church - all these activities are central to the foundation of a happy family - and are the cement that holds us together.  We tend to do devotions in the evenings now, rather than at breakfast as this fits better with our schedules.  Papa Bear and I do a devotion together before we rise for breakfast, but we share our evening one with the cubs too.  On Sundays, we all go to Church together.  Even when the cubs were tiny, we kept them with us at Church for the whole service - we never wanted them to attend "Sunday School" as we feel that the service should be for the whole family - and we wanted to be able to monitor what they were learning.
  • Pets - our birds are part of our family too!  We all enjoy being involved in their care, and they are often a source of amusement with their funny antics - and a conversation point, too.
  • Physical activity - walking, running, football, climbing, flying kites - all these are fun and healthy and encourage team work and bonding.
  • Picnics and days out - it goes without saying that this is always a fun thing to do together.  Some people might have been surprised that we included the cubs on our anniversary day out last Friday - but for us, it was important that we shared our special day with the 2 people we love the most. 
 After all, our precious cubs are the product of one very happy marriage!