Is it wrong to tell children what they should believe about God? Isn't that a form of "indoctrination?" I'm thinking it's better to allow kids to make up their own minds.
It's been said that if you don't stand for something you will fall for anything. As in nature, so with the human heart: a vacuum can't exist for long without some kind of content rushing in to fill it.
This principle has a profound bearing upon the spiritual aspect of the parenting process. Little children don't come into the world with fully formed, independent thoughts of their own about God, nor do they have the wisdom, experience, or intellectual capacity to "make up their own minds" about the deeper questions of human existence. In the spiritual realm, as in every other area of life, they are utterly dependent on you to feed them, nurture them, and point them in the right direction. If you don't, somebody else will.
What makes this assignment all the more urgent is that you have a fairly narrow window of time in which to carry it out with maximum effect. There's a brief period during childhood when kids are wide open to spiritual and moral training – when they're full of wonder, curiosity and questions like, "Who made the stars?" and "What happens to grandma after she dies?" This explains why the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church has often been quoted as saying, "Give us a child until he's seven years old, and we'll have him for life." During the pre-teen and adolescent years they may develop a typical teenage resistance to any kind of input from Mom and Dad, but at this stage of the game they continue to be like sponges – ready to soak up anything and everything you can dish out to them.
Naturally, there's another side to this coin. If young children don't get the teaching they need, it will be difficult to make up for lost time when they get older. In some cases a lack of appropriate training during the early years may even handicap an individual in terms of his or her capacity for spiritual insight and deep, sincere devotion to God. That's why the Scriptures are so emphatic about the importance of spiritual training for kids: "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); "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it" (Proverbs 22:6); "Fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord" (Ephesians 6:4).
As you prepare to tackle this challenge, remember that spiritual training involves more than just sending your children to church. It's basically a matter of living the principles you believe – letting biblical truths permeate your conversation and using everyday incidents to make a point or illustrate a truth from God's Word ("when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up" – Deuteronomy 11:19). It should go without saying that parental modeling is the most important piece of the puzzle. Kids need to see active faith demonstrated in their parents' lives. No one expects you to be perfect, but your actions truly speak louder than your words. Letting your children see you read the Bible, for instance, shows them the relevance of Scripture to your life. It can also lead to some important discussions of spiritual things.
Here's the bottom line: if you hold back from fulfilling your spiritual responsibilities as a parent out of some vague fear of "indoctrinating" your kids, you'll only be doing them a huge disservice. Moms and dads who withhold instruction from their children and allow them to "decide for themselves" what they're going to believe are almost guaranteeing that they'll "decide" to turn away from the faith and embrace "what seems right in their own eyes" (Judges 21:25). That's a mistake you don't want to make.
If you need help applying these principles, call us. We have a staff of pastoral counselors who would love to discuss your questions and concerns with you over the phone.
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A Parent's Guide to the Spiritual Growth of Children
Spiritual Growth for Kids