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Child, Children

Whereas the eventual character and skills of a human being are dependent upon both heredity and environment, a child’s heredity determines the uppermost limit of his capacity to ultimately achieve. Heredity is not subject to significant alteration following conception apart from the effect of serious disease which might affect the mother during the gestation of the fetus (unborn infant) through chemical interchange or transmission of infectious material between the blood streams of mother and fetus.

Environment, on the other hand, is what serves to fill in the void of this inherited capacity encountered at birth. Evidently substantial environmental influences begin immediately after birth (Ezek 16:4, 5). Moreover, child psychologists inform parents that the effects of environment are at work much earlier than they used to think they were. Noteworthy is the fact that as the child starts to run about by himself, thus asserting a certain degree of independence, there naturally ensues an occasional clash of wills between parent and child. Psychoanalysts have clearly demonstrated that the manner with which these clashes are dealt during the first two or three years, usually affects the future character of the child.

This development of character is brought about by the progressive organization of the child’s emotions about certain key ideas to constitute sentiments, attitudes, interests, or socalled complexes, first of all in relation to parents and siblings, and later to teachers, friends and playmates. Motivation is of great importance in this regard. Confucius’ mother is upheld as the motivating factor in his life and achievements, and down through history there have been many others whose interests and aspirations were acquired from one or both parents during earlier years.

There is much rationale to the assertion of the Roman Catholic Church that, if they are entrusted with the training of the child until seven years of age, there will be little tendency to stray from their teachings after that. This is in accordance with the scriptural injunction, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it” (Prov 22:6). This is not only applicable to trends in behavior but also to intellectual pursuits and the motivation for them. Much potential effect is missed in modern educational trends where the parent is encouraged to keep hands off of situations that arise at age two and three years, with the prospect that the teacher at a later age can do a much better job with the child. Later when the teacher encounters the child, all too often the pattern is set beyond much alteration. By this time “Even a child makes himself known by his acts, whether what he does is pure and right” (20:11).

In view of the above, it cannot be urged too strongly that parents face their responsibility for teaching the child during his first three years, which constitute the more plastic stages of the child’s mental life. This should be in the form of daily urging by parents and setting of ideals, aims and worshipful attitudes before the child, based upon Biblical teaching at the family altar and at other appropriate times. Even where one of the parents in the home is an unbeliever, the responsibility of the believing parent must be recognized (1 Cor 7:14).

It is a worthwhile guideline that the period from seven to fourteen years of age is the best period for memorizing, and the period of adolescence from fourteen to twenty-one years of age is the best period for reasoning. Since reasoning is prominent during adolescence, it is important that the stage should be appropriately set for it. Adolescence is characterized by a tendency to adopt the attitudes of others of the same age, an increasing stubbornness and impatience with authority, and resistance to conventional patterns of thinking and behavior often manifested by an obstinate independence of parental control. Such a situation is doubtless in view in 2 Kings 2:23, 24 where the KJV “little children” is more appropriately tr. “young teenagers.” Since adolescence is a period when religious experiences and problems are dealt with most profoundly, an environment of intellectual honesty within a Christian framework should be provided.

Concerning the matter of “visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and the fourth generation” (Exod 20:5), it should be noted (1) that the environment of wicked parents does tend to perpetuate itself through parental influences upon children in accordance with the principles elaborated above, and (2) that the disease of syphilis, contracted through immorality, tends to act in just this pattern, particularly when untreated or inadequately treated. Ultimately in the third or fourth generation syphilis usually reaches a severity in the child which is incompatible with life. See Family; Marriage.

Bibliography W. C. Davison, The Compleat Pediatrician (1949), 237-243; C. L. Burt, “Child Psychology,” EBr (1963) V, 504-510; S. I. McMillen, None of These Diseases (1963), 40-46.

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