The great experiment in value-neutral education is over. This movement, which advocated the idea that parents and educators should refrain from teaching young people moral values to allow them to determine their own values, has been a tragic failure. The results include an escalating rate of sexually transmitted diseases, higher rates of children born out-of-wedlock and broken marriages.
Not teaching any values tells young people that nothing is wrong. Everything is okay! In such a vacuum, no wonder so many young people make poor choices that affect them for the rest of their lives.
Parents who have agonized over whether or not to teach their children religious values should notice what God says. In Ephesians 6:4 the Apostle Paul said, "And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord." Paul did not advocate value-neutral education. He, by contrast, encouraged fathers to teach their children God's values. This statement was simply a continuation of the same principle God gave the Israelite families in the Old Testament.
Command to instruct children
When God gave Israel His eternal laws (Romans 7:14), He told them, "And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart; you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up" (Deuteronomy 6:6-7).
Here, God not only told parents to teach their children His ways, but He said to be diligent about it. He also said to do it throughout the day when they were sitting, walking, going to bed or getting up in the morning. This is all-inclusive; not much time is left.
The people of the Bible clearly understood God's direction to teach children His ways. Abraham, called the friend of God in James 2:23, was given high praise by God for teaching his children and household God's way.
Genesis 18:19 says, "For I have known him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him, that they keep the way of the Lord, to do righteousness and justice, that the Lord may bring to Abraham what He has spoken to him." Abraham was conscientious in obeying God, and his descendants-Isaac, Jacob and Joseph-also diligently followed God's ways.
King Solomon understood that when we reach maturity, we reflect the training we have received as children (Proverbs 22:6). This also includes religious training. History clearly shows that Israel did neglect teaching and obeying God's laws as given in Deuteronomy 6 and they suffered the tragic results. The verses previously cited in Deuteronomy and Ephesians clearly show that God expects parents to teach their children His religious values.
Teaching is based on love
The biblical passages dealing with parenting express God's will that our children be treated with love, dignity and respect. Love is the foundational principle for all Christian relationships (Matthew 22:37-40; John 13:34-35). Jesus Christ said obeying the Ten Commandments expresses love toward God and love toward our neighbor.
Just as God gives us laws because He loves us, we must give our children rules if we love them (Hebrews 12:7). Loving our children does include discipline. Child psychologist, James Dobson, has written a well-known book, Dare to Discipline, that advocates this biblical principle.
Establishing fair rules and punishments for breaking those rules has been described as setting up boundaries. The purpose for boundaries is so our children learn appropriate behavior and feel secure. Proverbs 29:17 (New International Version) says, "Discipline your son, and he will give you peace; he will bring delight to your soul." A value-neutral or lack-of-rules approach is a mistake for children and parents. Proverbs 29:15 says, "... a child left to himself brings shame to his mother."
Authority not to be abused
Because humans have a tendency to abuse authority, some have mistakenly concluded that all authority is bad. This is not true. God intended for authority to be used for good (Romans 13:1-4). Jesus commanded his disciples not to "lord it over" others in the church (Matthew 20:25-28). In similar fashion, Colossians 3:21 says, "Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged."
Ephesians 6:4 also tells parents not to use forms of authority that intimidate, bully or make children angry. Physical and emotional abuse of children are thus expressly forbidden by God. To those who foolishly reject God's direction on this issue, Proverbs 11:29 declares, "He who troubles his own house will inherit the wind."
Because physical and emotional abuse tend to continue through successive generations, some adults who were abused as children may find it difficult to break the cycle. With God's help and a strong desire, however, this scourge can be conquered.
Much has been written to help individuals who sincerely want to change, and the encouragement of older successful parents can go a long way toward helping adults adopt positive parenting roles. Titus 2:2-6 speaks of the older people teaching and modeling proper behavior for the younger.
Amazingly, this principle of modeling good behavior has even been found effective in teaching primates better parenting skills (See supplement article, "Primates Learn Better Parenting,").
An inclusive, relational approach
Notice Jesus Christ's attitude toward children. Several passages in the New Testament record Jesus rebuking His disciples for trying to keep little children away from Him (Matthew 19:13-14; Mark 10:14; Luke 18:16). He had a positive attitude toward children and showed them personal attention by picking them up in his arms, praying for them and using them as teaching examples for adults.
Christ was not too important or too busy to give them some of His time. We need to remember that God considers our children holy (1 Corinthians 7:14). We, too, must treat children with dignity.
In Deuteronomy 6:20-25, where God instructed the families of ancient Israel about the importance of obeying God's laws for their collective good, the liberal use of the ,pronouns, we, us, and our, is significant. For instance, in verse 25: "Then it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to observe all these commandments before the Lord our God, as He has commanded us." God obviously intended for parents to include their children in matters of family obedience. God wants parents to expect their children to obey Him.
In one of the most passionate pleas to influence behavior, God, as our Heavenly Father, straightforwardly instructed ancient Israel in His laws, and the consequences for obeying or disobeying them. God concludes His plea, recorded in Deuteronomy 28-30, with, "I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live" (Deuteronomy 30:19).
Did you notice? God did not attempt to be value neutral. He said, "chose life" for your own good. We, too, must be passionate about our desire for our children to adopt God's standards as their own. We must work to help them do so and strive to influence them to make that free moral choice.
Our own example is paramount in properly influencing our children. Children are quick to notice discrepancies between what we adults ask them not to do and what we do ourselves. In some cases those differences are logically defensible. For instance, children should not drive cars if they do not have the skills necessary for safely operating a vehicle. It is a different story, however, when children see a double standard on moral issues.
Paul pointed out this principle to Jews who were trying to influence Gentiles: "You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that a man should not steal, do you steal? You who say, 'Do not commit adultery,' do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who make your boast in the law, do you dishonor God through breaking the law? For 'The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you,' as it is written" (Romans 2:21-24).
Parents cannot expect a "Do as I say and not as I do" approach to bring success. Regardless of what parents say, most young people will adopt their parents' standards and life-styles by the time they reach 25-35 years of age. In this case, actions do speak louder than words!
So when it comes to teaching values to our children, it is impossible to be neutral and God does not want us to be neutral. We adults have to concentrate first of all on being good examples ourselves. Then we can have greater expectations of successfully influencing our children to obey God for their own good.