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The challenges of Christian parenting today

Again and again, studies have shown that parents exercise the greatest influence in the education and upbringing of children. It has been said that parenting…

Again and again, studies have shown that parents exercise the greatest influence in the education and upbringing of children. It has been said that parenting is the greatest and the most difficult leadership challenge in the world because it has to do with preparing our children for life and impressing on them the values that they need to grow up. Most of these values are not the sort of things we can teach in a classroom style. They are values that our children learn from observing our lives as parents. Herein lies the critical place of parental good example. These words are not mere rhetoric. They point to the heart of the God-given responsibility of parents in bringing forth life into this world and of educating that life in knowledge and virtue, character and morality.
On account of the challenges of modern life, many parents are not available to effectively fulfil their God-given responsibilities in the upbringing of their children. The pressures of work, which deprives parents of the ability to spend quality time with their children, the shortage of parents who are good role models, the phenomenon of absentee fathers, the loss of parental authority, and the crisis of joblessness in our society are among some of the challenges affecting parenting today. Many children today are suffering from acute deprivations, ranging from the emotional impoverishment of the love and care of parents; spiritual poverty, in which case they have been unable to encounter Jesus Christ in their lives; and moral destitution which results in a life of violence, drug abuse, alcoholism, crime and sexual perversion.
The indulgence of many parents has given rise to a situation where many children are obsessed with a pleasure-seeking life, and a culture of instant gratification that promotes even the enjoyment of sinful pleasures. We are seeing children and young people today whose obsession with sports celebrities and with pop-stars is nothing short of what we could call the spiritual stranglehold of diabolism. The cult of hero worship has become the new idolatry of our age. We see this in the amount of time, energy, passion and resources that many parents and children put today in adoring celebrities, which over shadow the quality of their commitment in the service of God. They can pay their way to watch a football match in Stanford Bridge, but they would not go on a holy pilgrimage. They can adorn their rooms with photographs of pop-stars but they never have a portrait of Jesus on their walls. They can engage in futile arguments with friends over the celebrity of their choice, but are shy to talk about their faith. Even when they observe all the rituals of their Christian faith, their choices in life are a sharp departure from their faith.
It has also been observed that today’s generation of young people is one that is in a state of perpetual childhood, consumed with virtual games than with the lives around them. One wonders how it has become fashionable today for many people to follow the seductions of materialism and consumerism that blights and blunts their moral consciences. The inability of many people to practise detachment has become one of the irksome challenges of contemporary culture. This ranges from the inability of parents and children to put down their phones during family meals and the obsession with technological gadgets to the detriment of enriching human relationships.
Again, one of the greatest lies that contemporary culture has communicated to our children is the idea that wealth and fame are what life is all about. Whether it is the way we adore our sports heroes or other pop culture icons of our time, we have focused way too much on what a man does or how he looks than on who a man is. That is why integrity and honour are virtues that are in short supply in our society that is infatuated with the fascination of wealth, power, prestige, position and privilege.
Today’s media also exposes children to the evils of sex, drug abuse and violent crimes long before they become adults. Many of them lose their innocence in this way, and end up growing up in a dysfunctional manner. In his book, Character Matters: How to Help our Children Develop Good Judgment, Integrity and Other Essential Virtues,Thomas Lickona, a developmental psychologist wrote: “The sexual corruption of children is arguably the most insidious attack on their innocence and character, but the media culture warps their values in other ways as well. Many parents are distressed by how materialistic their children are, never content with what they have. Increasingly, youth seek their self-esteem and identity in clothes or cars.”
We also see the effect of all these in our broken education system. Our system of education today manufactures young people who are smart and talented, but also anxious, timid, and lost, with little intellectual curiosity and a stunted sense of purpose: trapped in a bubble of privilege, heading meekly in the same direction, great at what they’re doing but with no idea why they’re doing it. Beneath the façade of seamless well adjustment, you find many of these children with toxic levels of fear, anxiety and depression, of emptiness, aimlessness and isolation. This is also why many of them behave like sheep, always doing the next thing they are told to do, without having the opportunity to develop their own abilities and find their own direction in life.
Today’s Christian parents have to wake up to their responsibilities. Our children need training in the areas of emotional maturity and social intelligence. They must be taught the values of deferred gratification, that it is not everything that they want that is good for them, and that some things in life are better enjoyed and valued more when they come at a certain age of life, with patience and hard work. Our children need to be taught discipline, self-mastery and self-control with regard to human sexuality. This means channelling their passions in a beautiful, healthy, integrated and harmonious manner. Our goal as parents is to teach, prepare and protect them as best as we can until they reach maturity of mind and body. A healthy sense of detachment will also help them to moderate how they enjoy the pleasures of life.
Parenting is a journey of learning, exploring, growing, loving, crying, laughing, praying, teaching, caring, and making memories of joy, faith, and trust. Quality parent-child interaction is crucial to the development of healthy, emotionally balanced, responsible and stable children. Being good parents is about being really present in the lives of our children. Our children need love, time, guidance, discipline and boundaries. They need to learn about values, virtues and the importance of a strong work ethic. They need to be taught about God and the importance of prayer, and be helped to value life and to love their faith. They will learn all of these important lessons from our personal example as parents – not from the government, school, friends or the Internet. While they listen to what we say, they are also watching what we do. If we walk the walk and talk the talk, they are more likely to do the same.
Rev. Fr. Emmanuel Ojeifo is a Catholic priest of the Archdiocese of Abuja.

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