How to Raise a Religious Child

Throughout much of India, a baby’s birth is celebrated with rites of
welcome and blessing–songs, drums, happy distribution of sweets,
auspicious unguents, gifts for infant and mother, preparation of horoscopes,
and inscriptions in the genealogist’s record books.
In general, children are deeply desired and welcomed, their presence regarded
as a blessing on the household. Babies are often treated like small deities,
pampered and coddled, adorned with makeup and trinkets, and carried
about and fed with the finest foods available to the family.

Every new generation faces the difficult job of raising its children. Though we may live in a time very different from that of our grandparents, we have the same responsibilities as parents as they did. We must nurture our children, help them learn society’s belies and values, and to teach them the skills they will need to survive as adults.

For hundreds of years, Indian parents were guided by traditions that never left parenting to chance. These traditions were passed from one generation to the next, but they all had the same purpose-to ensure passing down of traditions, customs and values that they lived with to their children. While we cannot go back to the world as it once was, we can still find great values in our child-rearing experience.

Being a predominantly Hindu society, I choose to talk of Hinduism and the religious values that play a part in brining up children today. Lets begin with understanding the core principles of Hinduism.

Hinduism is more correctly known as Sanatan Dharma. Sanatan means “eternal, timeless.” Therefore, inherent in its very name is the fact that the beliefs, values, and teachings do not become obsolete or outmoded with each new generation or even with each new millennium.

The basic core beliefs of Hinduism – and this does not necessarily pertain to the specific, dogmatic interpretations – are forever true. Our rishis and saints were given the “ultimate truths.” They were not given just the “answers for today.” The teachings of the vedas, the basic, fundamental values of Sanatan dharma are as true today as when they were inscribed by our rishis.
No one stops and wonders whether we should “rethink” the Pythagorean theorem, whether perhaps today a2 + b2 no longer equals c2. No one asks whether Einstein’s theory of relativity should be re-evaluated for the new millennium. When something is universally true, it just is.

For Hindus, dharma (a divinely ordained code of proper conduct), karma (the sum of one’s deeds in this life and in past lives), and kismat (fate) are considered relevant to the course of life. Crucial transitions from one phase of life to another are marked by sometimes elaborate rites of passage.

However, while the core beliefs and teachings are timeless, some of the practices, traditions and interpretations must remain flexible and dynamic, not only according to time, but according to place and context.

We must not box up the religious values and try to pass it on, untouched from generation to generation, for when the box is opened it will be incomprehensible to the youth of the new generation. Rather, we must take these timeless truths and yet teach them in new ways; we must take these ancient values, but implement them in new ways. Then, Sanatan dharma will be not only eternal in a stagnant way, but it will be eternally dynamic and thriving.

Globalisation, while having its ups have also had certain adverse affects among the youth of today. The world seem to have shrunk considerably with the technological inventions and re-inventions and modernization has eroded, to a certain extent the foundation of the values and cultures among the children and the youth of our society. One such invention being the television.

Television – in the way it is currently used – has had the most adverse affect. Through television, the children see – on a daily basis – the glorification of violence, decadence, commercialism and rebellion. Our world is becoming more violent every day. Every day more and more children slip from the hands of their parents into a world of alcohol, drugs and hedonism. Much of the impetus for this comes from what they see portrayed in television and in movies. Such things become so commonplace that our youth lose their power of discrimination; they lose the ability to say, “this is real and this is unreal.”

Additionally, they have done numerous scientific, psychological studies in which it is proven that immediately after watching violence on TV, children act more violently toward each other and they play in more violent ways than children who watched a non-violent show or who watched no television at all.

Television is not inherently harmful. It could theoretically be used to spread great wisdom, great inspiration and great knowledge. It can teach the children of the religious values and the cultures that we Indians have been proud of. But religious values, practices and discourses have lower production value on television today, as opposed to science fiction movies, glorification of violence. As a result the children end up relating to violence more than the age-old values and teachings that the older generation have been treasuring.

The media must realize their role in what is happening to our world. Those in charge of program planning must take greater responsibility for what they broadcast. Today, “violence sells and sex sells.” However, those who make choices based on what “sells,” must realize that money comes and goes but morality comes and grows. They should produce shows that bring morality and inculcate the right values among the children instead of shows that teach not how to hate, how to fight, how to be decadent and rebellious.

The West is having different effects on the moral values of the children today. On the one hand, the West has a great deal to offer. It teaches us to respect cleanliness and sanitation. It teaches us how to conduct ourselves professionally. It teaches us how to offer our hands in organized volunteer work. So, on that hand, the West is helping to raise some of the moral values among the Indian youth.

However, on the other hand, the influence of the West is causing a dire erosion of Indian ‘sanskaras’ and ethics. Most fundamentally the West emphasizes material gain, material prosperity, competition, decadence and superficial beauty. It de-values spiritual prosperity, prayer, humility, cooperation, reverence for elders, restraint. So, in this way, especially our youth are being indoctrinated into a Western system which encourages them to forsake the timeless wisdom of their culture for the acceptance of their peers.

What should be done? That is a long question. But, the gist is that parents must give their children ‘sanskaras’ and altered values, which are acceptable to the children of the 21st century. This can only take place in the home. Have aarti every day in the home. Eat dinner together. Pray before you eat. Read Gita together, sometimes instead of turning on the TV, all the time. Children do what they see. If we give them family values, give them ‘sanskaras’, give them the precious treasures of their culture, they will not be tempted by the influences of Western culture.

To further their children’s good character, parents are advised to encourage their children to join them in practicing “good deeds”, which is a precursor of having religious values. A good deed is when someone does something for someone else without being asked or without expecting anything in return. We teach children about good deeds by their observing our good deeds. We also teach about good deeds when we ask our children to help out, with only providing our thanks in return. Our thanks can of course include expressions of affection!

Through good deeds, children learn that the world doesn’t just revolve around them, but includes others who may benefit from our help. At first the reward may come from our praise, but as the child ages, they learn to derive satisfaction themselves from helping others. Children can help clear the table, help the neighbor with the yard, share a toy and join us when we do our volunteer work.

Being of good character doesn’t happen by chance. Parental behavior that encourages children to take responsibility for their actions, correct situations and practice good deeds can go a long way to assuring kids grow up to be of good character with good values.

In today’s world with nuclear family system and women becoming highly career oriented, are we losing our traditional values?
Till a few decades ago women used to be homemakers; whereas, men used to be the breadwinners of the family. The upbringing of children used to be the responsibility of the mother. And in a joint family setup it was the collective responsibility of the grand parents and other relatives staying together. The child learnt their first lessons at home.

Today’s urban woman is highly educated, career oriented and has very little time for her progeny. With the increase in nuclear family setup, the child finds itself being brought up by maids. They overlook the needs of the child and cover up their guilt conscience of neglecting the child by pampering him with gifts and chocolates. They are neither able to do justice to the organization they are working for, nor are they able to care enough for their children. Maintaining of a perfect balance between home and work is hardly possible. Increasingly, employers think twice before recruiting a woman in a responsible job.

This results in the child growing up without learning its first lessons on traditions and human values from home. There is a stifling of the finer emotions in the child.

Is today’s woman neglecting her duties? Can she shirk responsibilities for dissolution of traditional and cultural values? It is true, the father has an equal role to play in the development of a child. But the role of the mother in bringing-up the child cannot be over-stated.

Hence, there is not just one factor that can hinder a child’s development in their formative years, there are several. In order that the children today learn the ageless and timeless values of our society we must begin to alter our life style and our thought process to serve the child in those years of his or her life, which can go a long way in determining their character.

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