The warm summer breeze wafted across the screened porch carrying the sweet smell of honeysuckle. The night air was filled with the chatter of family talk as we shelled purple-hull peas. When the bushels of peas were finished, we rewarded ourselves with big, cool slices of watermelon. Pleasant memories of childhood still fill my head: catching lightning bugs in Mason jars, fishing for crawfish with a string and salt bacon, climbing trees, playing hide-and-seek with friends, lying on my back looking into the night’s sky searching for the Big and Little Dipper, picking blackberries along the fence row, lying on my stomach searching for four-leaf clovers. These simple pleasures consumed my innocent mind as a child. The world was so full of wonder there was never a dull moment!
I knew nothing of sexual abuse, alcohol and drug addiction, corruption in government, nor any of the serious problems that plagued the adult world. Children in those days were sheltered from the underbelly of the world with all of its hate and lawlessness. In those days parents whispered or spoke in private about adult subjects. Children were considered delicate creatures who could be damaged by the ugliness of the real world. Children were sheltered in a cocoon of innocence. Was it a world of fantasy? Yes! Just like a hothouse plant is kept in an unreal environment until it is strong enough to survive on its own. Children were provided time and space and a secure and optimistic environment in which to grow and experience the simplicities and beauties of life.
Children in today’s world are treated differently than in days gone by. There is a pervasive assault on the innocence of childhood in our modern culture. The philosophy of parenting has changed. Many parents think their children should be exposed to the “real world” so that they can deal with it now rather than later. They are exposed to hours of sordid television shows, it-rated movies, violent video games, blasphemous music, and now the vast Internet. Some parents use their kids as status symbols, entering them into adult-like activities such as child beauty contest, sporting competition, and record-setting affectations. Added to this mix of premature exposure, our schools are teaching our children to worry about the rainforest, the ozone layer, population explosion, global warming, and chemical pollution.
With the modern communication tidal wave sweeping across the nation, it is almost impossible for the most diligent parents to shelter their children from the careless, fouled-mouthed media. Even news reports are peppered with subject matter unfit for children’s ears. Explicit details in news stories involving Jon Benet Ramsey, O. J. Simpson, Timothy McVeigh, corrupt televangelists, Viagra, and even the President of the United States make sensitive parents blush in the presence of their children. Children who are raised in clean Christian homes are exposed to worldly children’s foul language and rude behavior at school and in the neighborhood. Bill McKibben, a writer about contemporary life wrote: “If one had set out to create a culture purposefully damaging to children, you couldn’t do much better than America at the end of the 20th Century.” (1)
The philosophy of exposing our children to the “real world” is not working. The following indicators reveal the consequences of not protecting the innocence of our children:
Since 1960 the rate of teenage suicide has more than tripled. According to the Centers for Disease Control, in 1993 a horrifying 8.6 percent of high school students attempted suicide in the preceding year. The U.S. Department of Human Services reports that there are 1,400 attempts of suicide every day among teenagers. (2)
According to William Bennett, former United States secretary of education, the fastest growing segment of the criminal population is made up of children. (3)
Today, 51 percent of girls and 67 percent of boys have intercourse before age eighteen (compared to 35 percent and 55 percent in the early 1970s). About one in four of those with sexual experience acquire a sexually transmitted disease. (4)
Every eight seconds a child drops out of school.
Every twenty-six seconds a child runs away from home.
Every forty-seven seconds a child is abused or neglected.
Every sixty-seven seconds a teenager has a baby.
Every seven minutes a child is arrested for a drug offense.
Every thirty-six minutes a child is injured or killed by a
Every day 135,000 children bring guns to school. (5)
Children still need protection from the ugliness of the world. As Christian parents, we must keep an unrelenting vigil over our families to protect them from worldly contamination. Childhood needs to remain innocent for the following reasons:
1. Children need security. They are little and vulnerable to the evil of the world. That’s the reason they love teddy bears, night-lights, and their favorite blanket. Parents and the church should strive to make them secure by protecting their innocence. Jesus provides the example by comparing Himself to a mother hen protecting and defending her brood (Matthew 23:37).
2. Children are forming their world-view. They need a positive view of life and themselves. “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6). They will carry their childhood training for a lifetime.
3. They are not emotionally mature. Some of life’s encounters are difficult for mature adults to handle. It is unfair to impose these emotionally charged issues upon our children. (See I Peter 2:2; Hebrews 5:12-13.)
4. They are not physically ready for some adult situations. (See Psalm 131:1.) This is especially true in the area of sex. Children must be bewildered and confused by some of the things they see and hear in the modern media.
5. They are extremely impressionable. Young children cannot differentiate between fantasy and reality. This can put a child into a mix of spiritual and emotional turmoil when they are exposed to disturbing movies filled with death, violence, and other disturbing behavior.
Not only should we protect the innocence of childhood but we should also treat children like children. There is a rush to adulthood in our culture that pushes children into adult roles before they are ready. The reluctance of some parents to give children moral guidance is a neglect of responsibility and puts children in insecure and dangerous positions. Leaving them in a moral vacuum to sort out their own belief system is ignorance. Parents are lazy and indifferent who have never resolved for themselves the real issues of life. Children need moral guidance! Parents should not only see that their children are taught secular subjects, but moral, spiritual, and ethical values as well.
Many modern television shows as well as movies portray parents as narrow-minded dolts who are just plain dumb. Their children are portrayed as wise problem solvers helping their parents out of dilemmas. This convoluted portrayal diminishes the role of parents. In some states, the public schools pass out free condoms, and teenagers can have an abortion without their parents’ consent. Sex education is often taught by liberal teachers who never mention abstinence as a realistic alternative and who sometimes suggest experimenting with homosexuality.
The church must try harder to save our children. It is disturbing to read that the homosexual community contributed $25.5 million to the gay agenda in 1997 (6) and the United Pentecostal Church International has not yet reached one million in any given Save Our Children fund drive. The evangelism and training of our children have never been more pressing than now! Your generous offering this year will be used prayerfully and wisely for the saving our children. The Sunday school continues to be a vital arm of ministry to all ages, especially the children.
1. Taken from, “Is Innocence Evaporating in an Open-door Society?” by Deirdre Donahue, USA Today, October 1, 1998, Section D, p.1.
2. Medved, Michael and Diane, Ph.D., Saving Childhood, Harper Collins Publishers, Inc., New York, NY, 1998, p. 5.
3. Ibid.,p. 6.
5. Time Magazine, October 8, 1990.
6. American Family Association Journal, “Funding the Gay Agenda,” (Source: Lambda Report on Homosexuality, 1-2/98), May, 1998, p. 8.
Gary Erickson is the general secretary of the Sunday School Division, United Pentecostal Church International.