We are frequently reminded that this is a difficult age for youth to grow up in. And so it is. From infancy up our children are overstimulated and under-nourished. From the first day of their extra-uterine life, they are subjected to unnatural influences and conditions which mar their natural unfoldment. Dire poverty on the one hand and gross luxury on the other is an unhealthy condition for any nation to get into.
So long as the highest ideal which we hold up to our young people is that of securing, by any possible means, social and economic advantages over their fellow men and using those advantages to squeeze everything out of their fellowmen that they can, we are going to have our troubles. A white-collar ideal of work, a civilization of lazy, money-mad, thrill-fed, stimulant-driven people cannot be expected to offer growing, expanding youth an ideal place to grow up in.
Most of our children grow up in the cities--yet the cities are not for children. Cities are for adults and for commerce. Cities are the centers of the ceaseless adult struggle for place, power and pelf. In the city there is no place for children to play; there is not enough sunshine; the children are divorced from nature. The streets are dangerous; the mental atmosphere even more so.
The cities have divorced the child from nature. Contact with nature is essential to the normal unfolding of the child's mind. In the larger cities children spend their lives in apartment houses. Where they have advantage of the infrequent city playgrounds, it is always canned play. Spontaneous, self-directed play is an urgent need of our children.
"What sense is there in making a success in business but missing the one big thing that makes a success worth while?" This pertinent question was asked by Dr. Henry Neuman, of the Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture, in a lecture before the annual spring conference of the Metropolitan District of the New York State Congress of Parents and Teachers, held in the Hotel Commodore, April 16, 1927.
Dr. Newman was discussing the relations of parents to their children and to their homes. "A home," he said, "is a place where young and old live together." He advised parents to do more than merely work for their children. They should "live with them, play with them, read, laugh, discuss, and think and work with them." These things may all be done in the home "where old and young live together."
It is in the home that parents and their children meet and mingle. If the home influences are good, it will require an awful lot of unfavorable influence outside the home to counteract these. The value of advice and suggestion is in direct proportion to the faith the receiver has in the giver. Children quite naturally have great faith in their parents. It is quite natural for every child to regard his own father as the best, the greatest, the strongest and the wisest man in the world. Every father is a hero to his children. And these things are just as true of the relations of mothers to their children. No woman can take the place of mother in the heart of the child. But these things are only true if the child knows his parents and associates with them and draws his mental and moral sustenance from them.
Dr. Newman says: "In the changing family life of today, the larger freedom of the young need not lead to moral disaster if the young are trained to manage their freedom wisely. Persuasion, example and advice will go further than whippings and scoldings when parents have learned to keep their children's confidence in them."
Freedom lead to moral disaster! Stiffle the thought! There can't be any morality without freedom. An action loses every bit of its moral value when it becomes an act of compulsion. If we are coerced into doing right we are not moral. Only that is moral which is done of one's own choice and volition.
Punishment cannot make children good. It may make slaves and puppets--but not moral beings. There are example, persuasion, advice; and the greatest of these is example. Children pattern after their parents as naturally and spontaneously as they eat and sleep. This is the reason the right kind of home influences are so important. The child does what he sees his parents do and says what he hears his parents say. The parent is the natural teacher of the child. An ounce of parent is worth a pound of teacher or preacher. See that you are a real parent to your child, and not merely a boarder at the same house with him.
The Rev. Walter H. Stowe, rector of St. Mary's Church in Dover, warns the home, school and church about passing the buck. He charges that these three institutions each pass the buck to the other, in matters relating to child training and youthful delinquency.
He strikes the vital spot when he declares the home should be more than a lodging house for the family. He scores another center shot when he declares the school should not serve as an overparent; that the church should not serve as a policeman. Our present educational system cannot be defended. It is top heavy. Its foundations are sometimes rotten. It is often meaningless and purposeless. Education should prepare one for the battles of life. It does not always do this. It is supposed to teach students to think. It frequently succeeds in teaching them to repeat the textbooks. Education should have some relation to life as it is being lived today. It devotes too much time to the past--not enough to the present.