by Robert Snyder
In an Associated Press poll conducted in March of 1995 by IRC Survey Research Group, four out of five teens said their faith was important to them and one in two said their faith was very important to them.
Matthew 19:13:15 "Then little children were brought to Him, that He might put hands on them and pray, but the disciples rebuked them."
But Jesus said, 'Let the little children come to me, and do not forbid them; for such is the Kingdom or Heaven.'"
Pediatric oncologist, Dr. Diane Komp in her book, A Child Shall Lead Them, says that "a child's faith starts out simple and clear and grows more complex as the child lives out his or her life. For some, this may mean a rejection of their parents' faith. For others it will be a long and sometimes painful process of questioning, a spiritual journey that lasts a lifetime."
Many children are finding a need for a relationship with a personal God to provide them with love, stability and security ad they make their way through a increasingly unstable and painful world.
A Lilly Endowment study of 8000 adolescent respondents says that faith "enables a child to have a sense of hope", according to Merton Strommen, who led the study. This sense of hope, love, stability and security gives strength to children dealing with the death of grandparents, peer pressure, and too often, divorce.
"By the second grade, the God most children know is still a loving protector, one who stands beside them in nightmares, and takes relatives who have died to heaven. 'When I have a bad dream, I pray to God in heaven. There are monsters in front of me. I pray to God. God comes down from heaven and He starts to sing and they melt down into dust,' says Lance at Zion Lutheran School at Bridgeport."
Dr. John Boojamra writes in his book, Foundations of Christian Education, "The first objective of the ministry of the family is the growth and nurture of healthy personalities. A healthy personality is the product of a healthy family; a healthy Christian personality is the product of a healthy Christian family. As children undergo the various stages of personality development, their faith in God also undergoes various stages of development. Ultimately, the ability to trust parents and the ability to trust God exercise the same personality faculty."
The family is the place where children learn trust, love and security. The family is the place where children learn to trust God, love God, and feel the protection of God during difficult times. Families can lack these fundamentally Christian characteristics regardless of faith. Many followers of Christ interpret the healthy raising of children to mean very strong, disciplined, authoritarian parenting. Often this discipline crosses the line to create fearful and untrusting individuals. Such environments, despite their outward Christian label or identity, are unhealthy Christian environments.
By the time a child reaches the age of 10 or 11, he crosses an important threshold. Studies have shown this to be a critical age in determination of religiosity. Parental and church teaching undergo critical tests as the child becomes conscious of the difficult life experiences occurring around him. "Now, for the first time, the children express doubts about whether they or their families will make it to heaven At Zion Lutheran School, one girl, who has experienced how mean kids can be, believes some of her classmates are not going to make it to heaven." says a David Briggs article on 'Faith' ["Parent's Faith Shapes Child's", AP Religious Writer, Canton Repository, 4 April 1995].
In conclusion, faith is important in providing hope and stability as we live out our lives in the world. Faith begins in early childhood in simple forms - the trust, love and security we learn in our families are transferred to God. As life becomes more complex and the questions about God and faith become more complex, the answers parents provide in their actions and lifestyles will be more important than the didactic answers taught in Sunday Schools. A critical threshold in faith determination is around age 10 or 11. As Christian educators, teachers, lay people and parents, we have the responsibility to "let" or "enable" children to come to Jesus with trust, love and openness, and create environments where those conditions exist "for such is the Kingdom of Heaven".
Reprinted from Orthodox Christian Education Commission News, Vol. 16, No. 3, 10 Feb. 1996.
© 1996 by Orthodox Family Life and the original author(s).
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