The Challenge of Raising Children in the 21st Century
In the Orthodox Church we often use the expression that the
home should be like "a little church." In Romania,
a country the size of the state of Pennsylvania
with over 500 monasteries, they take this saying a step further and say that
the home should be like "a little monastery." It is my firm belief that in our
increasingly secular and hedonistic culture, these sayings are true more now
than ever. To raise Christian children in 21st century America,
parents need all the help they can get from the church and, yes, even the
As a parent of four children and as a youth worker in the
secular arena, I have a great deal of experience working with kids. I've seen
the successful results of raising kids according to God's laws and wisdom, and
I've seen the damage done when parents don't draw from the rich resources of our
Judeo-Christian heritage. I teach a parenting class in my vocation as a
certified prevention professional and I always tell the parents, "You have to
be militant against our culture to be successful at raising kids these days."
Unfortunately most of these parents are outside the church and do not have the
weapons they need to engage in this cultural battle. In fact, many of them are
themselves caught up in the very cultural influences that are causing their
kids to get involved in alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs, criminal behavior,
sexual promiscuity, and poor school performance.
In this article I will share some suggestions for ways that
we as Orthodox Christians can raise children who will be able to withstand the
anti-Christian forces at work in our culture.
If some of these suggestions hit too close to home, please forgive me.
It is not my intention to condemn anyone or make anyone feel guilty if they
have failures in the area of parenting and family relations. My hope is to give
guidance to those who are in the midst of the challenge of raising and
preserving Christian families in an antagonistic culture.
I'll start with some basics: Christian parents need to have
good solid marriages. They need to be "grown up" in the sense that they know
who they are, they are solid in their commitment to their spouses, and they are
firmly planted in the church. Many of the parents I work with are too busy
going through their own personal soap operas to have the time or emotional
energy to give their kids the guidance and protection that kids need.
If you have been married in the Orthodox Church and have
kids, you don't get to be an adolescent. You can't be wondering if you married
the right person or be busy trying to turn your spouse into "the right person."
The grace of the sacrament of marriage has been given to you and the righteous
response is to put your hand to the plow and never look back. If your spouse
can't make you happy, remember: we are put on this earth to be holy, not happy.
With a good marriage and a life centered in the local
Orthodox Christian parish, Orthodox parents must set about the task of
parenting with vigilance and intensity. Here are some practical suggestions:
1) Every child should go to bed at night with a Bible story
being read to them by one of the parents. A good Bible story book will take a
child completely through the major stories, themes, and lessons of the Old and
New Testament in a relatively short period of time. With my own children I have
used the same book over and over for the last 23 years. When I get to the end
of it, I simply start over at the beginning. Each time they hear the stories
they have grown a couple inches and gained more maturity and the stories are
understood at a deeper level.
2) Families need to pray together. Christ the Savior
Seminary has a wonderful little book of mealtime prayers that we have used in
our home for years. Each week we sing the prayers in the vesperal tone of the
week. What a joy to sing the Plain Chant in our home and practice for the
stichera to be sung at Great Vespers on Saturday night. Families should also
try to gather at least once a day for prayers at the family icon corner. This
is one of the key ways that children perceive their home to be a "little
church." This also helps them to realize that worship is not a once a week go
to church type thing but is rather at the heart of who we are and what we do in
3) The "little church" needs to be centered in the "big
church." Attendance at Divine Liturgy,
Vespers, and other services should not be optional for children. Children need
to grow up knowing that this is simply what Orthodox Christians do, that the
divine services are the most important, life-giving and, special events of the
week. A rich liturgical life in both the small church and the big church will
go along way in helping our children to grow up as worshippers of the One True
God, the Holy Trinity.
4) After your spouse, your children need to be the most
important people in your lives. Next to a strong marriage, your children's
health and holiness need to be your highest priority as a family. Personal
interests and hobbies that conflict with this priority need to be put on hold
until the kids are raised. The more we invest in our children, the more they
will identify with our values and take the course we have set for them. "Train
up a child in the way he should go, when he is old he will not depart from it."
In addition to all of these positive suggestions, I have a
list of things from which Christian parents need to protect their children.
There are many things in our culture that may not appear to be intrinsically evil
but in reality war against our children and hinder them in living a holy
Christian life. It is in regards to these things that the Romanian reference to
the "little monastery" becomes particularly relevant.
1 Video games. Video
games of almost any type are a great hindrance to the development of Christian
virtues. Even educational types of games can be harmful in that they can create
an over-dependence on entertainment, visual and audio stimulation, and
immediate gratification. Many video games are overtly anti-Christian, promoting
violence, selfishness, lust, criminal behavior and pleasure seeking of all
kinds. In addition, they create
hyperactivity, impatience, nervousness, and the need to be constantly
entertained and stimulated. In no way do these games help the child to live a life
of meditation upon God, quietness, patience, hard work, and living for others.
2. Television, music,
internet, magazines and other forms of secular information media. Parents
should strictly regulate what kinds of materials their children are exposed to,
just as the abbot of a monastery gives his blessing for the monks to do their
various tasks and activities. It is a grave error to allow children free reign
on these types of materials. Everything should be scrutinized under the lens of
the Holy Scriptures, the Church Fathers, and the whole Tradition of the church.
Any form of entertainment or information which does not lift up and edify the
human person as created in the image of God, should be avoided and prohibited.
3. Tolerance of
sexual impurity and promiscuity. Our popular secular culture is at war
against our children to take away their innocence and virginity. Orthodox
Christian parents need to talk to their children about sexual issues as soon as
they are old enough to comprehend the subject. They should be taught that
virginity is the highest prize of their childhood and the greatest gift they
can give to their future spouse.
Parents need to set "old-fashioned" parameters for their
children in terms of dating and how they relate to the opposite sex. The lives
of the monastic and married saints should be lifted up as examples of marital
fidelity, chastity and purity. Children should be exposed to the monastic life
of the church and be allowed to consider monasticism as a life choice.
Orthodox parents should not assume their children will be
able to keep their virginity in this culture which is so aggressively pushing
them to be sexually active. We need to be aggressive and militant in promoting
sexual purity to our children and often this will mean saying no to them. This
means saying no to t-shirts that expose the belly-button, low hanging jeans
that expose the waist line, and other articles of clothing bent on exposing
more and more of the human body. The American fashion industry is set on making
teen age girls look as sexy as possible. This is in no way compatible with
4. Alcohol, tobacco,
and other drugs. These substances pose a great threat to the spiritual and
physical health of our children. In fact, the use of tobacco is a primary
predictor of a child who is at risk of poor school performance, sexual
promiscuity, criminal activity, and other risky behaviors. Parents need to have
an open line with their kids about these substances from the earliest years and
kids need to have a clear message of disapproval from their parents concerning
the use of any mind-altering substance including tobacco.
In conclusion, Orthodox Christian parents cannot afford to
be wimps. We need to take the authority of an abbot in our little monasteries,
providing our children with spiritual formation bathed in the tradition of the
church. This requires courage and mental fortitude, being able to withstand our
children's anger at times, and determination to stand against the current tide.
Christian parenting in the 21st century is like swimming upstream in
a swollen river. The good news is that if we stay firmly anchored to the arc of
the Church we and our children will not be swept away in the rushing waters of
a nation that has forgotten God. We have in the church every resource we need
to raise holy and healthy children who will be able to keep their virginity,
stay free from drug addiction, and reach their full potential as human beings
created in the image of the One God in Three Persons, the Holy Trinity, Father
Son and Holy Spirit.
-Fr. Alexis Miller
Pastor, Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Mission,