“Dangers of Childhood, and Means of Obviating Them,” by Professor George Whippel (from The Mother’s Assistant, February 1845; pp. 25-30)
The temptations which assail children are divested of their power in exact proportion to their knowledge, and the strength of their moral principles. See, then, the condition of each little frail being ushered into this world of sin. Knowledge, it has none. Strength, it can scarcely be said to have,—either physical, intellectual, or moral. Yet it is thrown into the midst of the stream, where the rapid current is downward. It is difficult to mention any thing connected with a child, which is not in some way a temptation. What hope then can there be that the little one, thus situated, will not perish? Although a remedy is provided, yet it can hardly understand that remedy, until it has gone far down the rapid current of sin.
Must, then, our children be lost? Or is it necessary that most of them be ruined, if perchance a few of them escape? No! this is not necessary. God has provided a sovereign remedy, but the remedy is conditional. In what way conditional, do you inquire? Doubtless upon parental faithfulness. What responsibility! Do we believe it true, that the souls of our offspring are so intrusted to us as they may be saved or lost, according to our faithfulness or unfaithfulness? Such a weight of responsibility is truly enough to crush parents who feel it, unless they know how to cast their burden upon the Lord. I will endeavor to mention some of the dangers of our children, with some of the remedies which have come under my limited observation.
The first danger lies in an unsubdued will. The first and indis-
pensable duty of every parent is, in the strength of God, and with fervent prayer, completely to subdue the child’s will. There is no alternative. This must be done, or I do not see how the parent can claim the promises of God, relative to the child. These promises seem to me, like all the other promises of God, to be conditional; and, if the parent has not fulfilled the condition, how can he claim the promise? ‘Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it,’ I think does not mean merely that we are to teach the child good and wholesome things, but that we are to make the child do these things. This, of course, implies the subjection of the child’s will.
The intimate connection between the subjection of the child’s will to the parent, and the surrender of the heart to God, is a subject of momentous importance. The question has long been agitated in my mind, whether a perfect submission to parental authority may not involve conversion; whether, as soon as the claims of God are presented to a child subdued to its parents, its heart will not of course, and without a struggle, be subject to those claims? Whether this be true or not, I presume no one of us doubts but that the things are very intimately connected. I think if we examine facts, we shall find it true, that, in regard to most cases of early conversion, the child’s will was first in subjection to its parents. I long and pray that this subject may be thoroughly examined by every parents, with the attention its importance deserves.
I do not mean to advance the idea, that the whole of the parent’s work is accomplished when the will is for the first time subdued; although a great deal is done. The parent must keep his hand upon it continually, never suffering it to rise without being put down with entire firmness and decision, such as he would exercise in grasping him, if he were about to be drawn into some dreadful whirlpool. The difference before and after the subjugation of the will, and before and after conversion, appears to be that then the parent had not foundation to build upon;—now he has one upon which he may rear a superstructure, beautiful and symmetrical.
On the other hand, when the child’s will is in a rebellious state, very little good can be done. He opposes this and that measure, which is adopted for his benefit, and thinks something else would do better; and if through fear his outward conduct may be conformed to the prescribed rule, yet his obedience is not hearty, and therefore the good design is not accomplished.
In regard to the age when children begin to be stubborn, this of course differs in different children, as it depends on the degree of precocity, circumstances, temptations, &c., but doubtless in all it comes very early, much earlier than most persons suppose. The mother must watch carefully, that she does not mistake here. She must see to it, that she does not tempt the little one, by mistaking the natural manifestations of distress and uneasiness, or even its constitutional desires, for perverseness. And let her be guarded, lest maternal fondness cause her to pass over developments of perverse will, hoping, and half supposing, that they may be something else, when her unbiased judgment would teach her better. It is very important to adapt the mode of treatment of each particular child to its peculiar temperament. Such treatment as might be favorable to one would ruin another. This parents generally acknowledge, yet for want of sufficient attention to the subject children suffer extremely. It requires careful study and discrimination, doubtless, yet it is a point of vital importance.
Great danger arises from children being left too much to themselves. It is because children need the watch and direction of parents, that parents are placed over them as guardians; and in proportion as this duty is faithfully and studiously performed, are the children likely to prosper. In an important sense the parents stand in the relation of God to the child. He needs that they should understand his character as thoroughly as possible; in which points he is weakest, as well as what are the strongest parts of his character. They will then be prepared to guard him from too strong temptations, and also to strengthen his virtuous principles, by suffering him to be tempted as much as he is able to bear. Let the parent in all cases, if possible, foresee the child’s trials and temptations, fortify his mind, and point him to infinite streng[t]h, which alone can avail him.
Irritability and fretfulness, on the part of the parent, are exactly calculated to produce a corresponding state in the child; especially, if the parent attempt to correct the child in such a state. Fire is only added to the child’s angry temper, and if, through fear of punishment, it appears to yield, yet it does not, and the heart is left fermenting with smothered passion. Love alone can win the heart to a cheerful obedience. It is not the mere rod, but the yearning heart of the parent exhibited in the use of it, which melts the soul
into a prompt and cheerful obedience; and nothing less than this, all admit, is obedience. How indispensable, then, that the parent’s temper be a mild and heavenly reflection of the heart of that Being who tenderly yet inflexibly chastens the wandering prodigal; but who, when he sees evidence of returning penitence, gives vent to the full tide of love which swells his heaving bosom, and pours forth an overwhelming flood upon the weeping penitent. If the parent give way to impatience, even in the heart, he cannot conceal it, for even an infant is a skilful interpreter of the language of the soul, in the expression of the face.
Another danger proceeds from the indiscretions of injudicious, yet perhaps well-meaning inmates of our families. Such an individual, for instance, through fear that a child has told an untruth, may take the surest method of causing him to do it. If a person wished to lead a child into the commission of a crime, he could resort to few more efficacious means than to exhibit suspicion of him.
In similar ways, children are often led into other sins, by those too who love them, and who perhaps have never dreamed of injuring them. Pride and vanity are often fostered, when individuals are utterly ignorant of the mischief they are working. A thoughtless person, perhaps for the purpose of gratifying the mother, may exclaim, ‘what a fine dress!’ ‘what a beautiful child!’ &c.; and such a remark, so pleasing to the susceptible heart of the child, will perhaps be remembered with vanity for years. Parents should be exceedingly cautious about trying to exhibit even their youngest children, by asking them questions to elicit answers, which will excite attention and admiration. This the child understands very early; and before the parent is aware, he will find the poor little thing puffed up with pride and vanity; and, without the parent’s help, trying to show himself off to the best advantage.
A very effectual way to excite the vanity of children, is to detail in their presence to friends or acquaintances their remarkable sayings and doings. Children understand and enjoy these things quite early. A little girl who sat in apparent listlessness, but really in rapt attention, while her mother was telling a friend her wonderful doings, broke in upon a too long pause of her fond parent with the request—‘Ma, tell something more that I have done.’
On the other hand, I would by no means depress children, by making them feel that they are mere nonentities, and unworthy of
notice, except to have their wants supplied. This is exceedingly injurious, and tends to produce despondency. Some parents, and those too who love their children, are afraid either to manifest much affection for them themselves, or to permit others to do so, lest they foster self-importance, &c. Such parents often keep their children at such an awful distance, that they are the last persons in the world to whom they will go in confidence for counsel respecting those things in regard to which parents are the only proper advisers and instructors. Such parents leave the most important concerns of their children utterly at random, or to be directed by persons entirely incompetent. Such parents leave the most important concerns of their children utterly at random, or to be directed by persons entirely incompetent. Their soul’s salvation is the last subject on which such children like to converse with their parents. They prefer opening their hearts on this subject to almost any one else. Moral beings need to be made to feel their real dignity and importance as such; and human beings need to be softened and cherished under the genial influence of warm love and sympathy; otherwise, constituted as we are, we become cold, wither, and die. A child will not be affectionate, kind, and tender, unless he sees and feels these qualities in others. There is no danger that love, tenderness, and sympathy, together with the most perfect familiarity on the part of the parent, will beget in the child pride or disrespect. This is not their tendency, but exactly the opposite. True, in all his intercourse, the parent must preserve his real dignity of character and undisputed authority; but this is perfectly compatible with such a course.
Serious danger often arises from the mutual intercourse of children, particularly among those of different families. Although there are great dangers arising from the connection of children of the same family, and such as will often prove ruinous, unless studiously guarded by the mother, yet these are far less than the temptations from intercourse among different families.
The mutual selfishness of children is a continual cause of fretfulness, anger, and ill-will; and will even foster hatred and revenge, unless the parent act as mediator; sit in judgment on the offender, administer punishment where it is requisite, and reconcile to each other the little antagonists, by appeals to whatever principles will melt and subdue their hearts into tenderness and love.
One important suggestion here is, never compare your children with each other in such a way as to excite emulation, or jealousy.
This will render them ambitious, envious, and hateful. In every possible way cultivate love, and the habit of self-denial for the good of others. Let them understand the end of their existence, and never suppose that they were created merely, or chiefly, to enjoy themselves.
Much has been said about the dangers arising from appetites and constitutional susceptibilities, and the very great importance of keeping these under due control by proper regulation of diet, regimen, &c. No mother, who has had half the light which most of us have had on the subject, can think these things of little importance.
The last danger I shall mention, but one which is far from being least, is the temptations of Satan. Doubtless our little ones have many a severe struggle with the arch enemy of their souls and ours, and often are carried away by his subtle machinations, when we are utterly at a loss to account for their conduct. Instruction and prayer seem to be our only resort here, and indeed we must pray without ceasing, looking to God for counsel in all our efforts, or expect to see our children rise up in judgment against us, ruined by our unfaithfulness. But all particular dangers are nothing compared to the manifold evils springing from the ungodliness of parents. When those to whom the guidance of young immortals is intrusted, and who, during their tenderest and most susceptible years, stand in the place of God to them, direct them downward; then emphatically we exclaim, ‘where is the remedy?’ By ungodly parents I do not mean merely the openly irreligious, but all who do not live, habitually abiding in Christ. Unless the parent holds communion with the Creator of his children—Him, who thoroughly understands their wonderfully wrought minds—who can turn the hearts of kings as the rivers of water are turned—who can sweeten the temper, and calm the ruffled passions, it is vain for him to attempt to train his child aright, or to profess to bring him up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
Oberlin, Ohio, Jan., 1845.