To my grandchildren on the moral development of their children

Published 11:43 pm Saturday, October 7, 2006

I recently wrote to you about brain development in your children. The subject of this letter is even more important — the moral and spiritual development of your children.

The study of human development over the last quarter century is amazing and it should greatly influence the moral guidance of children. For example, the first nine years of a person’s life pretty well determine his or her personal development. When children come into this world they are very much ready and willing to experience the world around them but in order to do so they need your guidance. By six months of age the new connections in the higher regions of the cortex are determined by their experiences at this stage of life.

If they are warmly welcomed into a friendly world it will influence the size of their brains. (A neglected child’s brain is actually 20 to 30% smaller than it would normally be with a better environment.) What a baby learns at this stage makes a permanent impression that lasts a lifetime. The very foundation for a life of success is laid when lessons are taught with an attitude of respect and a feeling of love. His or her ability to learn, to practice social skills and to develop a moral outlook are instilled during the first few days, weeks, and years of life.

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When my generation was growing up the rite of passage for a young person entering adolescence was to affirm faith in God, the Heavenly Father. We understood that puberty would bring on a series of ups and down along with some confusion about personal identity, and adolescents were counseled, prayed with, and encouraged to accept Jesus Christ. Generally they made a positive and lifelong commitment to the Lord and determined to live according to his teachings.

Most of the adults of my generation experienced a spiritual transformation during adolescence. I clearly remember my own relief from depression followed by a sense of joy and tranquility. No medical or psychological procedure can accomplish such a personal integration of self. It clarified the purpose of my life as being greater than myself and laid the groundwork for a moral life style. In my opinion this is the foundation that allowed my generation to be identified later as “the greatest generation”.

The picture changed in the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s. The media and Hollywood strongly advocated loosening moral restraints by doing what comes naturally and letting it all hang out. The traditional faith rite of passage for adolescents was abandoned by many for the pursuit of pleasure through drugs and sex. A person of character was too “uptight”, “straight laced” and concerned parents were old fashioned and out of step. No less authority than Freud himself assured us that we would be a much healthier and happier society if we gave up our sexual inhibitions.

Back in the mid 1950s I began teaching courses to ministers in a theological seminary in the areas of youth development and teen society . Can you visualize the teen culture of that time when there was virtually no drug use, teen pregnancy was very rare and abortion was considered a criminal act in which a pregnant mother killed her own unborn child? (Unwanted babies were carried full term and generally given up for adoption.) Strangers tended to trust one another, politeness was considered the mark of a lady or a gentleman, and language in polite society was free of crude terms and swearing. Psychiatrists and other psychotherapists were for the mentally ill- not otherwise consulted by the public in general.

And what happened as a result of the sexual revolution? In his book, God’s Outrageous Claims, p.136, Lee Strobel described it like this: “From soap opera to motion pictures.the entertainment industry fuels a popular culture in which the attitude is that sex outside of marriage is positive, not negative. Hollywood portrays casual sex as nothing more than a natural- and expected-progression in a relationship..In fact over 90 percent of all sexual encounters on television and in the movies are between unmarried people. Before the average age of eighteen he or she has witnessed more than seventy thousand images of sex or sexual intercourse between people who aren’t wed to each other.” And, consider this: “A Lou Harris poll disclosed that nearly half of teenagers believe that television portrays an accurate picture of the consequences of premarital sex.”

The fact is that America is plagued by a horrible epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases. According to the Sexuality Information and Education Council of America:

— Over 3 million teens acquire one or more of the many types of STD each year

— Adolescents have the highest rate of gonorrhea of any age group.

— They are a high risk group for hepatitis B and human papilloma virus which is associated with cervical cancer.

— The number of herpes cases in white teens was five times greater in the 1990s than it was in the 1970s.

— More teens are having sex.

— More teens begin having sex at an earlier age.

— There has been an increase in the glamorizing of sex on T.V. and in the other media.

— Teen dating patterns open up the opportunity for having sex with several partners.

— Teens are relatively inexperienced sexually and are generally willing to take chances with their health.

— Teens mistakenly consider oral sex to be safer than intercourse.

— Teens get their sex misinformation from other teens and the media as well as some of the sex education programs at school.

— The fact remains that the only safe sex is abstinence and the best source of information is from well informed parents.

My hope and prayer is that a faith-based life style might become as well known and as powerful today as it was for the young people of my generation. In spite of the sexual revolution in America, I am very glad that a Christian view of sex is still alive and well in a vast number of the nation’s youth. In fact, a large percentage of the nation’s church members are young people.

Like other great-grandparents we are very proud of our great-grandchildren, and we want to see each and every one of them become a source of pride to their parents after we are gone. We admire you for your courage in bringing them into a far more dangerous world than the one we knew when your parents were growing up. We pray that not one of them will become a grim statistic that would do harm to their bodies, render them childless, disappoint their families, lower their self esteem or interfere with their relationship to God.

As I recently reminded you, the writer of the Book of Hebrews in the New Testament described a scene in which the forbears were watching the living as they ran their race of life. They were called “a great cloud of witnesses.” As I stated before, we would not want to put undue pressure on you but your grandmother and I will soon be among that audience of witnesses keeping a prayerful eye on you and your children. OK?

All our love,

Granddad Watson