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Let’s discuss some ways parents treat (or don’t treat) their children like people. And for this article I’m going to shift gears to a more spiritual source. To the man who truly saw children as they really were: Jesus Christ.
During his earthly ministry Jesus gave adults three simple commandments in regards to children: despise not, forbid not, and offend not. Charlotte Mason goes over each of these in Home Education, page 14, and I’d like to expand on her ideas by adding some of my own.
In Matthew 18:10 Jesus tells us to “Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones.”
We despise children by having a low opinion of them. Notice how many adults ignore children when they try to converse with them, or don’t take the child’s thoughts seriously when they do listen. We chastise and correct them in front of others as if they can feel no shame or embarrassment. We put value on who they can be someday, not in who they are right now.
Miss Mason explains it this way: “…and while we regard them as incomplete and undeveloped beings, who will one day arrive at the completeness of man, rather than as weak and ignorant persons, whose ignorance we must inform and whose weakness we must support, but whose potentialities are as great as our own, we cannot do otherwise than despise children, however kindly or even tenderly we commit the offence.” (Charlotte Mason, Children are Born Persons)
We despise children by not having high expectations for them; we don’t believe they are capable of intellectual thought. Theo McKean observed that “If we distrust the students’ desire to learn, then our teachings are often weak, or oversimplified, and are spiritually unfulfilling. In reality, the student may be asking for bread, and we, inadvertently, “give him a stone.” (See Matt. 7:9.) If we have faith in the student, and see him as a child of God whose inner spirit is searching for an opportunity to renew and expand the understanding it once had while yet in the Father’s presence, then we are quick to provide him with the bread of life—and also to lead him to the source of living water.” (Hungering, Thirsting, Teaching)
Jesus boldly stated in Matthew 18:6 that whoso offends a child it was better a millstone were hung about his neck and he was drowned in the depths of the sea. In the footnote the word offend is defined as “cause to stumble.”
I truly believe there are few parents who intentionally or seriously cause their children to stumble. We want them to succeed and work hard to clear their path to success and happiness. But there are subtle ways in which we unknowingly provide stumbling blocks for our children.
Another major stumbling block is not enforcing boundaries or teaching children the habit of self-discipline. They are entitled to liberty, but not license, And when we allow children to think they can do whatever they want we are imposing a major stumbling block. Miss Mason describes it this way: “If we ask ourselves, What is the most inalienable and sacred right of a person qua person? I suppose the answer is, liberty! Children are persons; ergo, children must have liberty. Parents have suspected as much for a generation or two, and have been at pains not “to interfere” with their children; but our loose habits of thinking come in our way, and in the very act of giving their freedom to children we impose fetters, which will keep them enslaved all their lives. That is because we confound liberty with license and do not perceive that the two cannot co-exist.” (Charlotte Mason, Children are Born Persons)
Some liberties due to children:
- Make himself do what he ought (a strong will). Parents owe it to children to teach them self-governance.
- Liberty from self-consciousness. Our system of education fosters self-consciousness through grades and awards.
- Liberty from selfishness. There is never a time in the child’s life when his selfishness does not matter.
- Liberty of mind; to reject the popular unbelief.
“It is our duty to form opinions carefully, and to hold them tenaciously insofar as the original grounds of our conclusions remain unshaken. But what we have no right to do, is to pass these opinions on to our children. They deserve truth, not matters of opinion. “Children are far more likely to adopt the views of their parents, when they are ripe to form opinions, if these have not been forced upon them in early youth when their lack of knowledge and experience makes it impossible for them to form opinions at first hand. Only by ‘masterly inactivity’ ‘wise passiveness’ able ‘letting alone’ can a child be trained “to reverence his conscience as a king.” (School Education, pg. 43)
One day while Jesus was teaching, the people brought their little children forward to be blessed. His disciples rebuked them, but Jesus said “Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me.” (Matthew 19:14)
How do we forbid children?
We do not allow them in adult conversations and real-life activities. We shut them up in an artificial environment and separate them from the real world. We forbid them from moving on to more advanced subjects or books because they must stay at their grade level.
Young children may not have the attention span to spend long amounts of time in one activity, but they have the intellectual capacity to understand in small doses and if presented in the right way.
When we try to exert too much control over our children’s lives, by either imposing artificial punishments or rewards, we are causing a barrier to the natural development of character. When we shield them from the natural consequences of their actions we are preventing them from learning responsibility and maturation.
“It would be better for boys and girls to suffer the consequences of not doing their work, now and then, than to do it because they are so urged and prodded on all hands that they have no volition in the matter.” (pg 39)
Jesus only gave three directives for our relationship with children, and the simplicity only makes them more powerful. Jesus expects us to respect children, teach them correct principles, and allow them agency.