Who is teaching our children
their moral and ethical values?

by Archpriest Joseph Purpura

As a parent of four children, three of whom are teenagers, I witness the multitude of moral and ethical values that they are constantly presented. I am also amazed just how much at odds those values often are with each other. There are the moral and ethical values imparted to them from television and the theater. There are the moral and ethical values that their peers expect of them, which depending on the group (i.e. sports, academic decathlon team, chess team, theater group, church youth group, etc.) often in and of themselves vary. There [are also] their music, the Internet, their schoolteachers and the school environment as a whole, where one would expect high values to be imparted.

Recently my tenth grader's class held what was called "Awareness Week" where the "Myth of Masculinity" and "Gay and Lesbians: Awareness and Acceptance" were two of the main topics. At this point I began wondering who is setting the moral and ethical agenda for our young people, and I asked where and what is the responsibility of the Church and parents in this process. I well remember one of my seminary professors saying that he and his wife got through the teen years of their children by "talking with their children, and talking and talking." Recent studies tell us that the average parent spends about two minutes each day in meaningful conversation with their teenagers. Telling your child to clean his room, empty the garbage, go to bed, get up, brush your teeth, go to school, don't count as meaningful conversation, according to the authors of the study. Two minutes a day, no matter how meaningful, may not be enough to compete with the multitude of other moral and ethical values being presented to our youth. We need to spend a meaningful amount of time with our children to really know what is going on in their lives, what they are thinking, and what outside influences are forming their moral and ethical values.

"Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it." (Proverbs 22:6) This scripture passage conveys to us that we need to actively lead, in fact train, by example, words, and encouragement, our young people on how to live their lives. If in fact we want them to "live the Orthodox Faith in Christ," then we need to show them how this is done and encourage them to do the same. In order to do this we need to be present with our children and teens. Our young people need examples of righteous people, but they also need the presence and encouragement of their parents, clergy, youth leaders, teachers and other members of the community to do that which is right in the sight of the Lord. As communities and as families we need to ask ourselves what are we doing to "train" our children and young adults to live their lives as members of Christ's Body. Are we taking the time to discuss with them the moral and ethical issues that confront them in their lives. If we do not help them form their values, someone else will - and in fact, is. Taking an active role in forming our young peoples' values is as important, if not more important, to their being "successful" in life as making sure they have the right clothes to wear, make it on to the right sports team, or get the best education. When asked, many young people say that their parents and the Church do not discuss with them many of the current issues in society, such as pre-marital sex, sexuality in general, abortion, homosexuality, euthanasia, capital punishment, adultery, and so forth. This lack of discussion most likely means that our young people are left to form their moral and ethical values based on what they see and hear in the media, from the school system, and their peers, void of the teachings of their Church and parents. We need to ask if this is what we want for our children.

I am sure virtually all parents want their children to grow up with and utilize good moral and ethical judgment. We need to actively participate as parents and as the Church community in the "training up" of our children. We need to be present and active in their lives if we hope that they will live righteous lives. We need to encourage and assist one another as parents and as Church communities to do all that we can to teach our children the moral and ethical values of our [Orthodox] Christian faith so they will have the ability to make good choices in life.

Our children need to hear from us that [there] is an objective right and wrong. They need to hear and see that it is good and expected that they and all of us do that which is good. They need to see us and hear that it is expected that we share the gifts and talents that God has so richly blessed us with, that to help others is not simply something that is nice, but is expected of us as Christians. They need the support, the encouragement and the knowledge to know that it is good remain a virgin until marriage. They need to hear and see us act accordingly - despite what the media portrays - that extra-marital affairs are wrong and extremely damaging to all involved - including the communities in which we live. They need to know that just because society says certain lifestyles and actions are acceptable, it does not make them right. They perhaps know in their hearts but are confused by the messages they receive in school and in the media and so we need to be bold and say: the scriptures say homosexuality is wrong, abortion is murder, and life - no matter whose life it is - is sacred.

All of us, parents, clergy, youth leaders, church school teachers, members of the various organizations of the Church and members of the Church community need to take the time to listen to our young people. Likewise, we need to enter into their lives in an appropriate way, and to enable them to enter into our lives and the life of the Church community. In so doing they can gain the support needed to live a life as a member of Christ's Body. Making good moral and ethical choices is essential to the health of the Church community and our country. We need to do all that we can to "train up" our children, so that they can make good choices and so that "when they are old they will not depart from the Church. Most importantly we need to enable our young people to choose the Way of Life and not the way of death.

Fr. Joseph Purpura is the Director of the Department of Youth & Parish Ministries of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese. This article is reprinted with permission from the Web page: www.antiochian.org/youth

1999 by Orthodox Family Life and the original author(s).
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