How Much Can Children Decide for Themselves?

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Some say: Let children decide about religion.

In today’s world, parents are increasingly fed the idea that children can/should decide for themselves about big issues. Somehow, kids are supposed to decide about religion. In this modern world, they are now also supposed to decide about gender! But this idea–that children will grow up to be capable adults by simply allowing them freedom to experiment in whatever way they like–flies in the face of every study on Child Development. (Their brains aren’t even fully developed until age 20 or so.) It flies in the face of history. It also is in direct opposition to what we know to be true from the Bible.

We must first accept the truth of what it means to grow and develop. And then we must accept the difficult responsibility of parenting.

Scripture tells us that we are born with a longing for God. It is a part of being human that we seek the eternal. So when children are born, they need help to nurture this part of who they are. When parents don’t take their children to church, or take them to a mishmash of churches, because “the child has to decide for themselves,” they are abdicating their responsibility to help children grow. The mishmash creates a sense of confusion and instability.

Children become who God meant them to be, only with the help, guidance, correction and love within the family setting. However imperfect the biological parents are, they are morally and biologically responsible for giving their children the physical, spiritual, academic and nurturing help needed for children to develop. (IF they can’t, then adoption is the best option.) If children were left to fend for themselves, most would die. If children were left with only physical support, but nothing else, they would be like animals.

The process of child development means that parents must make all the early decisions for children in order to protect and teach them. Parents have to decide about the right schools, the right/true church, the right friends, the right amount of socialization, etc. Children are not yet ready to understand or decide about any of these things. Their brains and bodies and souls are not yet developed. And so God ordained that the young would have families. And within the family they are to receive molding and shaping with the assistance of a larger spiritual family—the church.

Why did God require this process of growth? He could have given us a quick process of development. Kittens, for example, no longer need their mother after a mere six weeks! But even kittens are nipped at and corrected by their mother during the time she is raising her young. She picks the kitten up by the neck and returns it to the nest. Administering correction and guidance is LOVE. It would be unloving to let the young do something so foolish they would die (or their souls would die.)

Our Catholic Church is a “dogmatic Church.” This means that we are called to accept certain Eternal Truths that are moral or theological—they are not up for debate. You might not fully understand those truths but you have to accept them to be truly Catholic. And a change in “understanding” is the job of the individual; it does not require a change within the Church.

Young ones are developing. They need an environment of stability and truth.

Young ones are developing. They need an environment of stability and truth.

Freedom does not mean we can throw out truth or common sense!

For example, it is not giving “freedom” to let a child run in the street. The historical reality is that running into the road, without looking and monitoring the speed of cars, could get you killed! Children need to be told “No.” And sometimes that “no” does not need to be explained.

“Stop!” yells the mom as her child toward the road. The child learns, in that moment, that doing what you please has limits. And there is actually freedom in that!

Imagine if there were no roads. Drivers were “free” to drive wherever their desired. First of all, roads/paths would be created because they are needed. Order is necessary. Without it there is confusion, chaos and death.

Freedom comes when we know where we belong and who we are. Then, we can BE.

FAMILY is where we are guided toward Truth.  Children learn how to make good and healthy choices by taking small baby steps. A preschooler can decide, “Do you want to wear the red or the green shirt?” A fifth grader can decide, “Do you want to use your $10 gift for a toy or save it for college?” But children cannot decide the big things in life, until after they have learned many things first and their brains have developed and they have learned a bit about Truth. And some things are not a matter of choosing because “right and wrong” are real. 

These are hard times to be a parent because of the many forces that seek to destroy the family. Hang in there, Catholic Moms and remember there is Truth and you can lean on it because Jesus is there!

Copyright 2015 Judith Costello, MA
Photo copyright 2015 Judith Costello, MA. All rights reserved.

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About Author

Judith Costello is the artist/author of Sacred Images: A Coloring Book for Prayer which includes 40 illustrations, 3 pages of ideas for adding color, design and borders, and a worksheet on designs. The full-color cover is one of Judith’s paintings. The book and her work can be found at www.unwindstudio.com and on Facebook under Unwind Studio:Where Art Relieves Stress.

1 Comment

  1. Judy, I love the example of the roads. No one complains about having to drive on roads!
    I have used an example of a large, fenced-in playground with plenty of room for swings, slides, jungle gym, courts and a field to play on. Some may see the fence and say, “How terrible to cage the children.” But in actuality, the fence says to the children, “You have all this room in which to play. Don’t worry, I will keep you safe.”

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