Help! Our Parents are Disappearing!

By Bernard Klop

In this Bulletin article, I want to briefly share some of my concerns regarding the decreasing influence that we as parents and teachers are having on the lives of our children, especially our youth. My hope is that this article will spark discussion in our parent community and encourage every- one to renew their efforts at providing some much needed involvement in their lives. If we are indulgent or indifferent as parents, we shirk our responsibilities and encourage our youth to rely on their peers for love, guidance, and support. This in turn stimulates the growth of popular youth culture in our community, which undermines both the family and the church.

Adolescence is often a time of turmoil and change. Physical changes brought on by puberty combined with changes in thinking processes, struggles to develop autonomy and a concept of self, interests in forming intimate relationships, and social pressures such as jobs and adult responsibilities all contribute to making this stage of life a potentially difficult one. These changes are further influenced by the contexts in which they occur such as the family, peer groups, school, church, leisure and work environment. All the social and cultural (sociocultural) factors that daily surround our adolescents influence them to think and behave in certain ways and to develop what we call values and a world-view. Psychologists call these influences socialisation processes. As parents, we are the most important people in this socialisation process. If we disappear, others will assume our role.

Historically, the main socialisation factors were the family and the church. Sons would become apprenticed to their fathers to learn a trade, while daughters learned home- making skill from their mothers. Adults were viewed as people with knowledge and it was considered honourable to learn a trade from ones father and follow in his footsteps. The most important people in an adolescent’s life are his parents, grandparents, extended family, and respected people in the community. Boys and girls would emulate these adults and prove their worth in society by learning to think and act like them. In religious communities, traditions were passed in this way from one generation to the next with very little change. In contrast, I see our youth today becoming more and more oriented toward their peers and the popular culture, which leads them to becoming intensely attuned to the heartbeat of the world. This trend creates troubling restraints which we as teachers are often confronted with.

In Biblical times God commanded the children of Israel with the Gentiles around them (Deut. 6:14). Just think of how fearful Peter was to go into the house of Cornelius the centurion. God knew that if His people, like Dinah, would begin to mingle with the Gentiles they would loose their identity and be socialised to think, speak, and act like them. Instead he commanded the parents to occupy a highly visible influence in their children’s lives (Deut. 6:7).

How unimportant parents are becoming today! The average adolescent, even in our community, spends less than 10% of the day with their parents. Sometimes days go by in which they see their parents only briefly before they go to school in the morning or bed at night. Sometimes Mom and Dad are already sleeping when they get home. Because of their lack of involvement, their role is diminished; they are disappearing from their children’s lives. No longer does the son need his father to teach him a trade; college will do that. No longer does Dad seem so wise; he barely knows how to run a computer. No longer is Dad the silent hero in his son’s eyes; the Michael Jordan’s and Mario Lemieux’ of this world are. Often, the only real point of connection teens have with their parents revolves around rules and attempts to control. Here parents struggle for power from a position of severely diminished status.

Even schools undermine the influence of the parents. Growing numbers of parents in the US and Canada are choosing the home-school. Why? So they can remain the people of primary influence in their children’s lives. They realise that the more their children become involved with their peers and the culture of the world around them, the more they will be socialised to become like them and the less likely they will be to embody the values of their parents.

What forces are socialising the children in our community? In some homes the parents are still what I would consider of primary importance; in others I’m afraid the 10% ratio has crept much lower. Their children are rarely home. Hockey games, movies, parties, sport nights, baby-sitting, and peers, combined with their time in school occupy almost all their time. Some children, even when they are at home, are busy killing people all night on their computer games or socialising in Internet "chat rooms." Sadly, we even read about violent computer games in stories written by students in the primary grades!

A sad consequence of all this is that the social ills that plague our society will also creep into our communities. If we dissolve our families and neglect to pass on the Biblical values and traditions that define who we are, our children will adapt the humanistic and materialistic morals of society. Divorce, premarital sex, drug and alcohol use, violence, crime, and other disorders, will penetrate our community more every year. As well, our youth will become more and more troubled as they try to reconcile their repeated schizophrenic experiences, i.e., a screaming hockey game Saturday night with its accompanying vice, and a serious sermon Sunday morning warning against sin. What attraction can the service of the Lord have if we invite these rival passions into our soul? How can we be pilgrims and sojourners here below if we are so attached to the navel of this world? How can we expect a blessing if we thus grieve the Spirit.

Must we stand helplessly by and watch our children be assimilated into mainstream culture? Can nothing be done? I believe we are morally obliged and biblically responsible to keep them with the old and tried way. However we cannot do this alone. As a community we must erect a wall of defence around our youth and prayerfully seek God’s guidance and assistance in helping them preserve their way. Each youth in our community has his/her own spiritual, social, and emotional needs. Our challenge is to meet these needs in a way that honours the traditions of our church and families, strengthens the individual’s sense of identity, and creates time and space for them to reflect and meditate in the realities of life. All decisions we make as parents and community leaders regarding our youth must reflect an awareness of these concerns.

In the first place we must seek to increase the communication between our young people and our parent and grandparent community. Adolescents today, despite the busyness in their lives are more lonely and depressed than ever before. A recent survey I read indicated that about 60% of adolescents regularly feel sad and hopeless. Every adolescent has a desperate need to belong. Peers and the world are not filing this need. Only close relationships within a strong community of support can do this.

We must get and stay involved with our children! Yes, I agree that there is a delicate balance between young adults’ desire for independence and autonomy and our parental role in providing opportunities for developing trust and responsibility. But does this mean we go visiting every other night of the week and leave our children to fend for themselves? Do we invite a group of children to a birthday party and then orientation through under-supervised whole class birthdays and deride parents who don’t approve of our socialisation agenda. Would it not be better to regularly invite only a few to your place and then spend some adult time with them, instead of getting caught up in a parent popularity contest? If we have food and interesting things to do or talk about, they would prefer this much better than driving around with an empty heart which is easily numbered with a substance. Ask yourself with every event you plan: "Am I strengthening peer culture or am I strengthening the importance of this person’s family and community in his/her life?" If the answer is negative, think about how you could change it to reflect these values.

Although we may not say that the former times were better than now, we do know that technological changes and our modern life-styles have brought the world’s temptations much closer to our lives. Our culture’s passionate pursuit if individualism is threatening our community’s sense of togetherness. A traditional Jewish prayer asks God for "binah" which has the meaning of the word "between" Judaism has always placed the individual "between;" -between the past and the present, between the individual and the family, between their identity as a people and the world around them. Leo Trepp, in his book on Jewish observance states: "We are impelled by the love of our forefathers to fashion the future lives of our children between us." May we also as a community be actively impelled to keep our youth between us and among us, and to resist those forces which, as Octavius Winslow would say, feed our youth into the vortex of this world to worship its bits of day!