Source for this image here.
"What are little girls made of?
What are little girls made of?
Sugar and spice, and all things nice
That's what little girls are made of
What are little boys made of?
What are little boys made of?
Slugs and snails and puppy dog's tails
That's what little boys are made of"
(Traditional nursery rhyme).
I was a little saddened by an article I read in the newspaper the other day which reported that the top toy for little girls has been recorded in a survey as no longer being the traditional plaything for generations of female children - dolls, but is instead now video games.
This made me feel so sorry! To my mind it says so much about what is wrong with modern secular society today. Not only does this fact reflect the over-dependence of society as a whole on technology as a form of entertainment, but it also reflects - far more importantly - the erosion of traditional gender roles for girls and boys. The survey didn't say what the ages of the children were in the study, but in an age when even pre-school children have access to computers, electronic games and other modern technology, it's easy to see how quickly the damage could be done.
One of the biggest shocks for me (and I think for Papa Bear too) - even coming from large families as we both do - was how enormous the sense of responsibility felt when our first child arrived. All of a sudden, we were presented with a tiny wee being, who was utterly dependent on us for everything. Not just the physical things - but the emotional and spiritual ones too. It seemed like a huge job to us! We were barely out of childhood ourselves when Little Bear was born, but even so, I think had we been 10 or even 20 years older when she arrived, it would still have been just as overwhelming for us. Of course, we quickly realised that most of what we needed to do to be guardians and guides for our children came to us quite naturally - seeking God's guidance wherever we could and whenever there was a problem we weren't sure how to deal with - but nevertheless, raising a child is a big responsibility - we only get once chance to get it right, so we have to be very sure right from the start that we are doing it the way God wants us to.
The Bible has plenty to tell us about what our roles as parents should be - Proverbs 22:6 and 29:17, and Ephesians 6:4 are explicit in telling us that as parents, it is our responsibility to train our children, to discipline them, and to instruct them. The emphasis is on us, as parents, to do this, not teachers, or pastors, or other family members. Only if we keep our children close to us - in our sight all the time, when they are very young - can we be sure that they are being influenced by their environment and experiences in a way which will shape them to become the Godly, responsible young people that will be witness to their faith, just as we ourselves endeavour to be.
I have spoken before about how important it is for parents to lead by example, and to show their children through their own behaviour, how to behave correctly. And one of the resonsibilities we have, as we do this, is to model for them the roles that God has ordained for us, right from the very beginning, when He formed Adam and then Eve and placed them in the Garden of Eden. As a woman, my job has been to model for Little Bear, how to be a willing and eager Helpmeet. As a man, Papa Bear has worked hard also, to model for Cubby Bear, the role of a man as head of his home and family. We know these to be important tasks because only by teaching our children what their roles will be as adults, will they be able to successfully form a marriage relationship with their spouse that is pleasing to our Father God - and also fulfilling for the married couple themselves, too.
What happens when we don't model our gender-distinct roles to our children in this way? Well, it is easy to see just what happens by looking around us at the way society has blurred gender distinctions to such an extreme that it is no longer possible to tell who is a woman and who is a man. Not only do people now dress in ambiguous ways and wear their hair in ambiguous ways, but their activities are no longer distinct either. Men become stay-at-home fathers while their wives go out to work and spend just a few minutes a day with their children. Women become soldiers or policemen, and take on roles for which their bodies and minds are not naturally designed to fulfill. And this blurring of distinctions translates into people's marriage relationships too. Their roles are turned upside down, and becuase this is at odds with the way they are naturally designed to conduct themselves, there is dissatisfaction and discontentment all around. Men struggle with being the submissive partner who follows the lead of their wife, and the women aren't able to cope with the physical and mental demands of being the leader. This also leads to a selfish sense of entitlement, where each individual is only able to focus on what they want, and not what their partner needs, because they are struggling against the grain of their natural, God-given role. They seek compensation in unwholesome alternatives - men may be unfaithful, so that they can live out the role they are supposed to be fulfilling, and women may turn to substance abuse, shopping, overeating, to reward themselves with the comfort and security that their husband should be providing them with, if they allowed him to take on his role as head and protector of the family.
We need to look no further than Deuteronomy 22:5 to see what the Bible tells us about this reversal of gender distinctions -
"The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman's garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the Lord thy God".
If we are telling our children, even at pre-school age, that it is OK not to care whether we are behaving in a way that honours our God given role as a man or a woman, then we are doing them a terrible disservice. We are allowing them to believe that God doesn't care whether they act like a man or a woman - or whether they grow up to fulfill the roles he has ordained for them from the very beginning of time. But this passage in the Old Testament clearly tells us that God does care, very much indeed.
He also cares very much that we ensure the entertainment that we allow our children to enjoy, is suitable, wholesome and that it honours Him. I am not going to say that every video game is a bad thing. There are some which are quite educational, or that can be played together as a family (such as the Nintendo Wii, which has some sports games that can be enjoyed by everyone) but, as I say above, we must be mindful that everything that we do we are modelling to our children - and everything else that they experience is also shaping their hearts and minds. If they are being exposed to violence, immorality, greed, destruction or even fantasy worlds that only exist in the mind of the game-designers, then they are being led away from God and into the world of sin. Most video games are what I term "passive entertainment" - that is, they require no autonomous interaction from the participant - the game just "happens" whether or not the player does anything. In a sense it is the same as a fairground ride. You sit in the seat, strap yourself in, and off you go, experiencing all kinds of thrilling sensations without having to do anything at all except remain sitting there. In this sense, I do think that the activity of playing video games isn't wholesome for children. There are so many other things that are far healthier that they could be doing instead. A video game does nothing for their faith, their imagination, their physical health, their relationships with other people, their emotional needs. It just happens, and they can sit there mutely and absorb it all. Children are like sponges - they soak up everything around them, be it good or bad. That is why it is so vital for us, as their parents, to ensure that we are providing them with influences that are beautiful, good, true and lovely. Things that reflect the beauty of God's nature and of His love for us.
"... whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.
Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you". (Philippians 4: 8-9).
We must focus on the things that are true, honest, pure and lovely, as we go about our work as parents. There are so many good things that our children can experience - so many wholesome activities, which often cost far less than video games and which the whole family can enjoy. One of the sweetest things when Little Bear was young was watching her playing with her dollies - she was such an attentive, caring wee "mama"! She had a sweet pink dolls pram that she would wheel up and down the path outside our home, and so many people would stop to smile and the tiny girl - no bigger than a baby herself - pushing her own baby, in its pram! These experiences may not be ones that our children remember consciously, but they will nevertheless be influenced by them - often far more than we can possibly ever imagine. As parents, let's remember our God-given roles, and embrace them joyfully as we share our strenghts and qualities with our children, that they might be blessed with them for another generation.
"Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord: and the fruit of the womb is his reward.
As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth.
Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate". (Psalm 127: 3-5).