If you studied English literature in high school or college, you may have come across the eighteenth-century poet William Blake, who wrote about what he called “innocence” and “experience.” He contrasted the world as it seems to children in their innocence with the same place as viewed through the older eyes of those with experience. Not surprisingly, his “Songs of Innocence” are often joyful, while his “Songs of Experience” address somber themes like cruelty, betrayal, murder, and immorality. To Blake, the loss of “innocence” and the acquisition of “experience” meant that one had become aware of the terrible things that are said and done in this often sinful, ugly world.
As a Christian who is a mother, I know that I’m not alone in being concerned about how and when my children will start to lose their “innocent” lack of knowledge of the world’s wickedness. I know that there must be many of us who are anxiously watching society become more and more accepting of immorality, more and more tolerant of sins that used to be called “sins” but aren’t anymore. I know that my children must progress to what Blake called “experience” when they are mature and able to handle that knowledge. And I know that, along the way, I cannot completely insulate them from the world—they have to be in it, and they will absorb some things, on some level.
There seem to be so many influences around us poised to do children spiritual harm. How do we guard against the forces that seem determined to rob children of their innocence prematurely? How do we combat them? As is the case in every dilemma, God has not left us empty-handed in this fight. The answers lie within the Scriptures.
First, we must teach our children well (Proverbs 22:6). Whatever empty spots we may leave in our children’s minds and hearts, society is eagerly waiting to fill with the wrong information. We must teach them what the Bible says about subjects like honesty (Revelation 21:8; Proverbs 6:16-17, 12:22) and sexual purity (I Corinthians 6:9, 13, 18; I Thessalonians 4:3).
From an early age, children need to learn that deceit in any form is unacceptable, and we ourselves should model the same level of honesty that we expect from our children. We need to set the standard of honesty high in our homes and not deviate from it. Our children learn from what they see, as well as from what they are told. Make sure they understand that while society has relaxed its understanding of what is truth, we as God’s children have not.
Regarding the very sensitive topic of sexuality, children need to be reared with the expectation that they will remain chaste until marriage, but not kept in ignorance of some fundamental knowledge of the subject. As they grow in “experience,” young people can be taken by surprise and yield to temptation because they have not been prepared. It might be advisable to go to the principal and guidance counselor of your child’s school, as I have done, and ask them precisely what your son or daughter will be exposed to or taught that touches on anything sexual in nature. You might be surprised by what very young children are being subjected to these days in the name of “education.” As Christians, we need to seize control of this very important area in the rearing of our children, teaching them about it correctly and scripturally at home.
Second, we must try to keep at bay corrupting influences like the wrong TV shows, movies, and books. My parents okayed my library books until I was in my teens. They gave me permission to watch every television show that I regularly watched. My mother actually went to a theater to preview a movie that I wanted to see. Her verdict was “no.” Did I mind? Yes, for about a minute, in the grand scheme of things. Now that I’m the parent, I have turned thumbs down on some books my first-grader could be reading right now. The disrespectful way Junie B. Jones speaks to her parents is enough to disqualify her as a role model for my daughter. Are you checking out the shows and books that your child is being influenced by?
Michael Medved, a conservative media critic, once explained that his children were allowed to watch a couple of programs a week, as a family, and their “television” actually functioned solely as a monitor—allowing them to view recordings but nothing off the air. In light of the moral wasteland that is the world of television, those sound like good ideas to me. Replace an hour of television time with an hour of family Bible study time for a great investment in your child’s spiritual development.
An additional thought about television: I cringe at the thought of an “innocent” child being allowed to have a TV in his or her bedroom, watching who knows what, unsupervised. Who is helping that child decipher the confusing messages he or she is receiving from the producers of those shows? Who is pointing out what is right and wrong, and why? Would we be surprised if children in this situation picked up the wrong language, attitudes, and behavior as a result of their television viewing freedom? Their God-given innocence will not last long that way.
Much has been written about the corrupting influence of the wrong friends. The inspired writer Paul said it best: “Do not be deceived: Evil company corrupts good habits” (I Corinthians 15:33). As Christians, we women can do a lot to teach our children from an early age how to select their friends wisely. At the very least, we should strive to be aware of where our children are at all times, who is with them, and what they are planning to do. Help them find positive activities to engage in with their friends. Help them to understand that it’s fine to be different from their peers if their peers are wrong—after all, we are to be a “special people” (Titus 2:14; I Peter 2:9).
Blake’s message has remained intact through the centuries: children will not remain “innocent” forever. Just as Adam and Eve learned about sin in the Garden of Eden, our precious little ones will grow up and find out about the great evil that is out there in all its manifestations. But they will not process this information correctly and put it in its proper place unless we have first provided them with a spiritual frame of reference. We can’t stand idly by, hoping for the best, while our children’s minds are overtaken by corrupt influences. In combating the forces of wickedness around us, Christian women must be actively engaged in helping to raise their children “in the training and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).
We should do everything we can to teach our children to discern good from evil (Romans 12:9). They need to be able to identify exactly what is beautiful, valuable, and important in this life (Philippians 4:8; Ecclesiastes 12:13-14). Even when they have gained “experience” and knowledge of the world, they can still be strong enough to choose the right path, be a “light” in this dark, sinful world (Matthew 5:14), and be saved in the end. And wouldn’t that be a wonderful feeling—to know we had done everything we could to help our children someday make it to heaven?
Lydia [Humphries] Casey is a homemaker with three small daughters. Her husband, Evan, preaches for the Crestwood church of Christ in Crestwood, Kentucky. Before her marriage she worked in radio broadcasting and teaching, both in the US and abroad. She graduated from Western Kentucky University with a B.A. in English and Allied Language Arts. She was Evan’s “help meet” in Hungary for two years (1999-2001) while he was preaching and teaching the gospel there. Their residence was in Budapest. You can communicate with her at LHCasey@bellsouth.net.