I would like to present the idea that the child's mind is not a neutral object that we can "pour" catholic doctrine into, and expect them to behave rightly as a result. Taking them to weekly Mass and a religious education class are good, but not the sum total of the parent's responsibility. We need to "fertilize the soil" of the child's mind in order for the seeds of God's truth to survive in that soil and take root. Parents need to be working actively to help their children's minds be spiritually healthy, or all the Sunday School classes on the planet will not be enough to keep them in the faith.
Here are three simple steps to help save your children's minds:
- Reduce their time in front of a video screen (in some cases, drastically reduce it); generally, the more video they see, the less they will be interested in the truth of God.
- Give them activities that strengthen and stimulate the mind (rather than those that turn it to mush); if you reduce their video time but do not stimulate them with something good in return, their minds will stagnate. The mind is like a muscle; it needs to exercise.
- Assert your loving authority as a parent (so that they understand you really want what is best for them); if you are wimpy in your leadership, the children will not take you seriously.
I know that these three steps run counter to much of what parents are being told today. Someone said to me recently that "unless you entertain children, they won't listen to you in religious education classes". She then proceeded to ask "what can we do that will entertain them better, because they still are not listening". That is the wrong question. The assumption that we have to respond to these children's problems (an obsessive need for entertainment) by making concessions to them (and giving them more entertainment), is wrong from beginning to end. All we are doing with this response is enabling them to avoid overcoming their problems. We cripple their minds, and do not help them to learn how to think.
We need to ask "how can we help them to reject the self-absorbed demand for entertainment?" What would that look like if we actually carried it out? Maybe some parents would take away their children's cell phones (!). Maybe some parents would throw their television sets in the trash. I certainly am not advocating a radical and sudden change in the home that will only alienate the children. What I am advocating, however, is that parents (especially fathers) need to disciple their children and teach them what it means to "love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and body". They need to educate them, and get them to the point where the children see the need for change. This is not done overnight, but it must start sooner rather than later.
I found it difficult to answer the earlier question about "better entertainment" in the religious education class because my children do not currently (and never have) needed to be entertained in order for them to pay attention. In fact, they appreciate learning about God without any desire for "a new and entertaining methodology" to keep their attention. No, they are not perfect; we have just avoided letting them become obsessed with having a constant barrage of entertainment.
Yes, there will be children who resist this. In my experience, however, I have found that the children will generally follow through with changes for the better if the parents explain things all along the way, and make it clear that they doing this for the good of the family (and also show that they themselves are willing to sacrifice for the sake of the children). In general, it is the parents who resist the changes far more than it is the children. Parents will say, "that's too hard", or "they won't listen to me", or "they'll never let me do that". We are not talking about choosing a different brand of socks, we are talking about their eternal souls; we cannot afford to find excuses.
In a mindless culture, children need to learn how to use their minds, and this goes beyond a class in logic (though, please be aware, that logic is incredibly useful). It means that we need to work, intentionally and purposefully, to help our children to think like Christians. We cannot merely throw a couple Bible stories at them and hope that they will make the right choices when they grow up. Parents have done this, and it fails every time. This is treating the child more like a puppy than like a human. They have minds, and those minds can be cultivated and made fertile ground for the truth of God. Parents, begin the work today.