Saturday, May 7, 2005

Should Children be Segregated by Age?

(Written by David)
The May issue of the Intentional Parents newsletter was a particular delight to us. It reminded us that “Inter-generational living” is the normal and biblical pattern of how to raise children. Many sociologists and child “experts” of today’s society believe just the opposite – that children should be segregated into their own age groups for much of their day to achieve maximum developmental benefits. Gone are the days of the one-room schoolhouse in our public education system. The only place left to find multi-age teaching going on is in the home!

Here is a keen insight into the scene today:

For some reason, our culture assumes that children must be herded into age groups, isolated with others just their age for most of their time every day. But I don’t see age segregation in the Bible. I see family members living and learning together, helping each other and interacting with other families; I see grandparents and older adults coming alongside younger parents and letting them benefit from their wisdom; I see Jesus teaching all ages in one group; I see parents discipling their children by spending lots of time with them.

Biblically, we know that children are born sinners and are overrun by foolishness. If parents do not intentionally seek to drive the foolishness from children’s hearts it will mutate into more insidious, secret, deeply-rooted and damaging sins as they grow up.

Proverbs 12:19 presents the truth, “He that walketh with wise men shall be wise; but the companion of fools shall be destroyed.” Now, I don’t know your child’s friends, but I wouldn’t consider many children to be wise. Why then does our society keep children with other children? Our children need to walk with wise people in order to become wise. They need to spend a lot of life with wiser, more mature people, not with their peers.

What’s more, when children are herded together with little supervision (think of the case when there are 25 or 30 young children with one or at most two adults in a classroom) a breeding ground is developed for comparing themselves to each other (peer pressure). In this kind of competitive environment, children will attack each other with words in order to jockey for position either as the “better” child or as the more “popular” child. And unfortunately, the parents are not there to see what happens and deal with it appropriately. By the time the parents hear about a traumatic experience, hours later, the facts are difficult to obtain and the golden window for teachability has often passed.

Let’s face it: children can be downright mean to each other. Children who spend a lot of time in an age-isolated group tend to set up foolish standards that breed comparison and competition. Yet Scripture tells us explicitly not to compare ourselves with ourselves (2 Corinthians 10:12) and to help each other, not try to beat each other (Philippians 2:2-4).

Proverbs 22:15 explains that “Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child,” and it seems that most of this foolishness surfaces when parents aren’t around and several children are left to their own devices with minimal adult supervision. Keeping the ages integrated and your children by your side checks this potentially crushing situation and protects your child’s heart from those wounding words and attitudes. Sure, someone may still say something that hurts your child’s feelings, but when that happens you are there to experience it along with your child and to help him deal with it in a gracious, loving manner (a discipleship opportunity again).

While I was a college student, I attended a local convenience store that was off-campus and was shocked by how many babies and young children I saw. I thought that there must be some strange phenomenon happening in the community where this store was, or that there was some particular function going on in the store to attract moms with young children at that moment. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that in the real world there are simply a lot of children. While I was at college I almost never saw them and developed a quite distorted view of the world. It was the same way with older adults. For those years the “wise” counselors from my life circumstances (apart from church life) were my peers and professors (and believe me, at Rutgers there was not much godly wisdom among the faculty).

As I look out at society, I see people who can be segregated with their own age group literally their entire life. Young children are sent to day-care, then graduate to kindergarted and enter the school system, where they stay in their own age-groups until age 18. In college, the situation is slightly better, as students from 18-24 (or even higher today as students take more and more time to complete 4 year degrees) have classes and live on campus together. Once they graduate, they typically get a job where they are working with people who have a similar skillset and background experience. Their co-workers are likely to be their age. When adults retire, they often travel, go on cruises with other retirees, join retirement communities, etc. How are the young to learn from the old if they never interact with them?

As your children spend time with those younger than they are, they learn to nurture and care for babies and toddlers; they learn to help the parents of those babies and toddlers as they are able; they see and hear firsthand what goes into caring for a baby; they realize the importance of discipline and obedience in children; they experience the thrill of each developmental milestone; and they develop the characteristic of patience as they help and protect those little ones.

As they spend time with people older than they are, your children learn to carry on intelligent conversations with adults; they learn from a variety of people with a variety of hobbies and interests; they benefit from large amounts of time together that give opportunities for everyday discipleship; they keep the elderly engaged in life, and give them meaningful relationships that preserve their dignity and give them a reason to get out of bed in the morning; the children learn to care for and respect the older; they see firsthand the cycle of life and how bodies can change; and they learn to be considerate of others’ limitations. They also learn history firsthand as the elder recounts stories of his life.

I pray that we will be a family that cherishes different age groups and seeks to go against the cultural tide of age segregation. We should be intentional about who we have in our home for fellowship and strive to not just have our peers or those like us over but rather have families with teenagers, single adults, those with disabilities, of varying economic ability, and the elderly in our home.

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