I’m reading through Francois Fenelon’s work “The Education of a Child” which was written in the 1600s and over the past few weeks we have been introduced to him and gotten a feel for the foundation he lays – the importance of the mother in the life of a child.
Today let’s slice up Fenelon’s list of 24 principles and go over his thoughts from the second chapter of his book. We need this wisdom in our day as much as ever.
Fenelon’s seventh suggestion in his plan of education is “Labour sweetly to correct their childish passions and prejudices.” In layman’s terms he is saying we need to work to help our children desire what is good and not want what merely entertains or distracts them. Fenelon is all about virtue. We need to work to cultivate a desire for what is virtuous in our children.
Within this concept, Fenelon gives us a few warnings and they are worth noting and thinking through. First he says that a child does not naturally know how to occupy himself. We talked about this in my series on meeting a child’s God-given emotional needs when we discussed the need for constructive activity. When children aren’t provided something positive to do, they will surely come up with their own idea of busy and often that involves something like the demolition of the bathroom or the flooding of the back yard! We need to provide them with activities which are engaging and not overly entertaining.
This thought about not over-entertaining our children comes from a man who lived long before radio, television, not to mention the internet, had been conceived or invented. Yet, the temptation to involve children in too much entertainment was still a concern in those days. Fenelon says, “the propensity toward pleasure in youth is so strong” and when children are “plunged into amusements” they “dread an orderly an industrious life.” Too much excitement in their life (the kind of excitement where they are the observer, not the participant) makes the doing of normal activities seem dull, uninteresting and unappealing. He goes on to say, “the want of solid nourishment to the mind [causes] their curiosity to turn towards objects which are vain and dangerous.” In a nutshell we are warned not to get our children used to sitting around being entertained and filling themselves on what I call “cotton candy for the mind.”
There was a great talk on this at one of my friend’s churches last year. (If you go to the link, scroll down to hear Dr. Archibald Hart’s message on “When Excitement becomes a Dangerous Drug.”) The talk is a life-changer and I recommend you set aside the 35 minutes it takes to listen. We are in an era where we can easily be conformed to the pattern of this world. Our American children consume a steady diet of screen exposure totalling around four or more hours a day on average. The types of things they are watching and playing are eating away at their ability to find pleasure in simple things and use their own imagination to its best capacity. I know how hard it is to strike a balance in this area, but we have to be brave enough to think about this in our own homes and families.
We have to watch out for the other extreme as well. Fenelon warns that the mother or father who constantly scolds their child and pardons nothing “only torments and discourages” that child. Our children need our love and respect as we shape their passions, interests. The choices of what to watch and do should not be riddled with shame and control on our part as parents. We need to help them grow into a proper liking of what is good – much like a taste for vegetables. We all know they are the best thing for us, but we may not enjoy eating them. After a time, with frequent exposure to healthier foods, we end up craving them and disdaining the less nutritious items as “too sweet” or “too salty.” The same will happen as we wean our children from “junk” on screens and help them grow into desiring more “meaty” ways to spend their time.
Now that’s a whole lot of “what not to do.” But what are we to do? One key suggestion Fenelon makes is this:
Children should be influenced by books that vividly portray life in all its trials and victories. Divine providence should echo throughout its pages. Characters who suffer wrongfully in a righteous manner, and display humble dispositions will lay a secure foundation … Children need informed instruction and models of heroes and heroines of righteousness to fill their reserves …
This idea of good books filling our children with virtue is not solely held by Fenelon. I have a great book which has become my go-to book when I get books from the library. It is called “Books That Build Character” and it is a list of books with descriptions of each book to help you see if it is fit for your family. Also we read books from The Baldwin Project, Yesterday’s Classics and Lamplighter. These books have helped my boys develop a sense of right and wrong. We order the Audio Dramas from Lamplighter and listen to them on car rides or in the evenings as a family. My boys do have video games (not gorey ones, but some rated E for Everyone) and they watch movies once a week or so. We don’t eliminate screen use, but we try to redeem it and keep it at bay.
There are far more constructive things we can do with our time and our minds. We look on Pinterest and attempt to make some projects we see there. (Though many of them don’t turn out the way the Pin originally looked!). We take walks in nature with our paints and a blanket and we sit and paint what we see. We watch drawing tutorials on You Tube from Art for Kids. We play Legos or Board Games.
In this era over 300 years after Fenelon lived, we are challenged by his call to “correct our children’s passions.” We are raising them to be adults, not just indulging their childhood or keeping them busy so we can do what we want.
We have a lot of wild fun over here at our home. That is good for the child and good for the family connection – not to mention that the neighbor kids love coming over. The most fun we have involves simple activites where we are engaging with one another.
Screens off – hearts open.