Sunday, January 24, 2010

Our Generational Problem

Some years ago I spent a day at a family gathering of a large Roman Catholic family. The parents appeared to be practicing their faith. Their adult children, however, were involved in practices and lifestyles that contradicted their parent's values. Two were living with a boy friend or girl friend without being married, one of the women had an abortion, and none were following their parent's faith. As I reflected on this I marveled at the fact that the values of these parents had not been transmitted to their children. Why?

All I could come up with were speculations and suppositions. After all, I only had a superficial knowledge of that family, but it was a marked contrast with my parent's generation, whose personal values (and life choices) had been profoundly shaped by their parent's values. My mother raised her children based on what she learned from her parents and grandparents. My Dad's work ethic and commitment to personal integrity were instilled by his parents and his aunts and uncles. And both of their religious beliefs had been influenced by their parents. So why was the transmission of values from parents to children missing in the present generation when it had been accomplished in the previous generation?

In trying to answer that question, I set out some possibilities based on observations of modern culture. First, parents are no longer the primary shapers of their children's character. With both parents having to work to make ends meet, children spending many more hours per week with peers than with parents, and with the powerful influence of music, television, and the internet (not to mention video games), it is no wonder that parents have less influence in their chidren's lives.

Second, since the 1960's we have engaged in the wholesale rejection of traditional values; the values of those parents. In particular, many of the elements of the youth culture go out of their way to mock and ridicule the values of their parent's generation. Movies, lyrics, television, and advertising contain large amounts of sexual inuendo, gratuitous violence, and boorish behavior. The internet has only increased this process of degeneration, with shock videos, access to pornography, and lots of anti-religion, anti-traditional values sites. For too many kids today, their parents don't stand a chance against the influence of their peers.

What can we say in the face of this discouraging picture? Are there any contrary voices speaking into our children's lives? The public schools try, but are no match for the peer pressure students face every day. Athletics certainly develop character, but only a relatively small percentage of young people are involved. Yet, while athletics teach personal discipline and teamwork, it doesn't touch many of the important issues of personal morality.

Far and away the greatest ally parents have is the church. Youth groups, summer camps, and missions trips are some of the powerful tools available to shape young lives. We need to continue to support and pray for our youth pastors and the various youth ministries in and outside of our churches. Many of these ministries not only help the children (and families) of their church, they end up touching the lives of non-believing neighbors. Many stories are told of a young person invited to a youth group who becomes a Christian and is instrumental in enabling his or her entire family finding the Lord.

In this dark age, we really are the light of the world. So let that light shine.