“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” When I was a child, my grandmother often used verses from the Bible as teaching points. I no longer recall which specific book of the Bible this verse comes from, but I’ve never forgotten it. It has guided me in raising my own children and in my encounters over the decades with young people in schools, youth groups and mentoring activities.
The corollary to this is “Allow a child to depart from the path of right and when he is old he will stray.” Chinese leader Mao Tse-tung learned this the hard way during the Great Cultural Revolution when he unleashed the youth of China on a campaign of violence and intimidation. When young people, who are full of energy and zeal but who often lack the inner restraints to control them, are allowed or encouraged to act out their passions, it often has negative societal impacts that take decades to correct.
Behavior that is rewarded becomes habitual. When the behavior is good, this is a good thing. Bad behavior that is tolerated or unpunished also becomes habitual. When young people engage in violent or anti-social behavior and there are no consequences, they grow up to become adults who have the same propensity. The young are the future – the future leaders and opinion makers of our societies. It behooves us, therefore, to consider what kind of future we are building when we either involved them in violence, or when we look the other way when they misbehave. It is our sacred obligation to help mold the kind of society we wish to bequeath to our children by teaching them appropriate behaviors. We do this in a number of ways, but one of the most effective is by our example. When the young see their elders using violence as a means of resolving disputes, they learn that this is how to resolve disputes. When we make them a party to violence and intimidation, we inculcate in them a tolerance for violence.
Youth should be a time of wonder and exploration; the young should be allowed to enjoy this all too brief period of their lives. At the same time, they should be aided in preparing themselves for the great responsibility they will have to shoulder when childhood has ended and they put away the things of youth. One of the most important things we can do for our young is teach them that violence is the last resort of those who have nothing productive to offer.