In my essay on Saving Our Youth, I discussed my belief that we must help our children to be individuals and not follow the crowd. I sincerely believe that only by becoming individuals will our youth have the strength to resist peer pressure and other temptations to not follow Christ, temptations to live life styles that are opposite the one that Christ would have us live.
Me, Me, Me, I’m the Only One That Counts
There is a real risk that as our youth become individuals, they will also become self-centered and will become insensitive to the needs and feelings of others. If this happens, they will truly become teenage and adult monsters! We must do all we can to help our youth have love and kindness in their relationships with others. Ideally, we would train them to this end while they are young, but it’s never too late to begin.
Become a Loving Person
A number of years ago, I knew a person who was very self centered. He had been raised in an orphanage and had learned at a young age that if he didn’t take care of himself, no one else would. He would do anything to anybody if it made his life better. He grew up without love, and he became a person without love.
Jesus taught that love must become the basis for our actions, that love must become our motivation, or reason for doing things.
This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. (John 15:12)
And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. (Matthew 25:40)
Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me. (Matthew 19:21)
We are to follow Christ who is the embodiment of true love.
But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him. (Moroni 7:47 47)
We are to have toward others the pure love, without judgment or criticism, that Christ had. We also are to have a pure love of him as our Redeemer and Savior and our example.
Do I Really Love Others?
What does it mean to love others? I believe that love is based on unselfishness, that love is based on a sincere desire to make others happy. I believe we can answer the question, Do I Really Love Others, by looking at how well we give ourselves in Christ-like service to others, by how much we cry when others suffer, by how much we experience joy when others succeed. In saying this, I realize that none of us can achieve perfection in loving others. Some people are naturally loving while others have to learn it (I’m one of those trying to learn it). We all have our ups and downs in how well we follow Christ. To keep a healthy perspective about this, we must look at our behavior over time and see the trend we are following. Are we, in general, improving in our ability to love, or are we losing that ability.
OK, My Kids are a Real Mess, What Do I Do?
Ideally, we would start when our kids are born. Babies are very self centered. They smile when they are happy, and they cry when they want something. They have no ability to control their actions. Their behavior is completely based on their needs. As they grow older, we are to help our children become concerned for the welfare of others and to do things to make others happy. I am not talking about “buttering” up to others to gain favors from them. I am not talking about giving others everything they want. I am talking about sincere concern for the souls of others, about their happiness, as Christ would define happiness.
Unfortunately, many of us have children, who for what ever reasons, are self-centered and without much love of others in their relationships. Does this mean that we just give up on our older children? Does this mean that we force our kids to be loving? What do we do?
Teenage Rebellion is Normal but Dangerous
We can teach and teach and teach our children, but many of our words will fall on deaf ears. This is natural, and we shouldn’t be alarmed when it happens. Adolescence is the time when our children become adults. It is normal for them to rebel against family, because they are trying to be on their own and make their own decisions. We shouldn’t be alarmed at teenage rebellion, but we must find ways to help our teens achieve peaceful, safe roads to adulthood.
Do Not What I Say, Do as I Do
One important way, perhaps the most important way, that we can teach our children without them tuning us out is by our example. Our children may disagree with us, our children may not listen to our lectures, but they will watch us to see if we do the things we tell them to do. Through our example, we can teach our children to become loving people. One of the reasons Jesus became mortal was to set an example for us, to show us by his life how we should live.
The Book of Mormon prophet Enos tuned his father out, but his father’s example and counsel finally “got through” to him.
Behold, I went to hunt beasts in the forests; and the words which I had often heard my father speak concerning eternal life, and the joy of the saints, sunk deep into my heart. (Enos 3)
Enos had heard his father talk of religious things many times, but he apparently hadn’t felt the importance of what his father was saying. Finally, after Enos no doubt had thought a lot about his father’s words, his father’s counsel finally made sense to him, and he understood the wisdom from his parent. His father’s example was also involved in this, because Enos said his father was a just man.
Teach and Love, Teach and Love
Setting an example for our children is important, but it probably won’t be enough. We must teach our children god-like traits of honesty, respect, trustworthiness, dependability, love. We must teach them how to relate to others. We must teach them of God, of Christ, and of their love to us. We must teach them that they are children of God, literally. We must teach them how to be adults.
And again, inasmuch as parents have children in Zion, or in any of her stakes which are organized, that teach them not to understand the doctrine of repentance, faith in Christ the Son of the living God, and of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of the hands, when eight years old, the sin be upon the heads of the parents. For this shall be a law unto the inhabitants of Zion, or in any of her stakes which are organized (D&C 68:25-26)
We must love our children, not because they are “good” or because they accomplish things in school, but because they are who they are. We must love them for themselves. We must love, unconditionally, our children regardless whether they do the things we would like them to do. Our children must always know that we love them and that they are welcome to come home when they need to.
God Made Them Free, Don’t Take It Away
I have already expressed my views on the agency of our children. Just let me say it again. We must teach our children, from their birth on, to make decisions, and we must give them as many opportunities as possible to make their own decisions. If they haven’t made decisions about their lives when they are young, we can’t expect them to magically start making them when they reach adulthood. Of course, we must follow common sense and the Spirit in this, because our children do not have full freedom of choice. Many decisions must remain with the parents, as well as with society in general.
With decision making comes responsibility, and that leads to the next and final topic.
You Chose It, Now You Live With It…
Freedom of choice without responsibility for the effects of that freedom is a quick road to selfishness. That road teaches that the “end justifies the means” and that “anything goes” as long as it satisfies my needs. In contrast to that, holding our children responsible for their actions teaches self-control, meekness, humility, and forgiveness.
Repentance is the pattern we should follow in teaching our children how to be responsible for their actions. They make an unwise decision that hurts someone (could be others, could be themselves). They recognize their mistake, and they accept it as a mistake, as their fault (none of this blaming others that we see so often in our youth). They apologize to the one hurt, and they make what ever restitution is possible. Then they try again to solve their problem with a different and hopefully a wiser decision. They thus learn from their mistakes. This letting our children try again is crucial.
This is how we adults behave with our decisions, and it is how our children must learn to behave with their decisions. In fact, this is why we came to mortality, to learn through our experiences to be like Christ, independent, loving people.