I perfectly understand the anxiety and concern of parents who pose this question, but I cannot help saying that it is absurd. Just think a bit more: how exactly and how long do I plan to limit the child’s contact with the outside world? Wouldn’t that be using force against his personality? Will these restrictions destroy trust in his parents in him, and as a result, also his faith?
Before embarking on such initiatives, we should fully realize that we are likely to die before our children. And what will become of them then? Moreover, if you “chain” your child with “handcuffs” to the home “radiator”, then he will grow up, run away and surely indulge in everything he was deprived of to the fullest. Of course, there should be certain restrictions, but only for educational purposes and with a clear explanation, like the immortal Vladimir Mayakovsky’s poem, What Is Good and What Is Bad.
We also should not impose only restrictions on children, while giving nothing in return. That is, if we deprive our child of something, then not only must we explain why we are doing this, we should fill in some other aspect of his life. I’ll try to explain my idea with an example. Today, one of the biggest problems in raising children is their “digital addiction”—whether it be social media or computer games. Here parents themselves should show an example, but while limiting the child in using the virtual world, they should fill in the free time and excessive energy with something more beneficial. Unfortunately, neither friends, nor school, nor any modern social environment in general take this role anymore. Do you remember the last time you saw teenagers playing outdoors? They simply no longer do it. On playgrounds we can see only small children who are taken out for a walk by their parents. When they grow a little, they immediately begin to “hang out” in their “black mirrors”. The virtual environment is more colorful, and it was created to keep your attention as long as possible; and, if possible, to never let you out of its “clutches”. That is why now even children’s leisure is purely the parents’ responsibility. And everything can be used here—any work with your hands, any sports, outings to the forest and building a fire and a hut, cycling or skating, visiting museums and theaters, reading and discussing books or good movies together. For the normal development of a child it is extremely important to saturate his environment with “irritants”, that make his mind solve various problems and take an interest in things outside the virtual world, helping him feel the taste and even the pleasure of doing something with his own hands. It is worth mentioning one instruction of St. Nikon of Optina: “The child’s soul is sensitive, albeit unconscious, but it loves God. And blessed are the children whose parents teach them prayer, talk about God, and read spiritual books with them.”
Mere isolation will not work. You will not be able to protect your child from sin completely, because like any human being, he bears a damaged nature. It is important not only to love your child “at a distance”, but also to sincerely love spending time with him. Only then can a trusting relationship be formed in which parents will have the opportunity to instill a moral compass.
We must not forget that our child is, first of all, a human being, and we bring up a person who has the same degree of freedom as we do. We need to raise not a servant for ourselves, but a future companion in prayer who will also pray for us after we die. And only a free person can become such. If you constantly “tighten the screws” and “compress the spring”, then sooner or later it will “shoot”, and consequences can be most deplorable.
True, not everything depends 100 percent on parents, but a great deal does. In the vast majority of cases, problems, especially of an internal, mental and spiritual nature, have their roots in childhood. External behavior is only a consequence of inner problems. Sooner or later we will die, and no matter how hard we try to protect them from the outside world, our children will have to live in it. Therefore, it is extremely important not to keep them safe from sin, but to help them form an “immunity” against sin as far as possible. “A good upbringing does not consist in first letting vices develop and then trying to drive them out. We must do our best to make our nature inaccessible to vices,” St. John Chrysostom wrote.
Not a single person is completely safeguarded from sins, and another aspect of Christian upbringing stems from this—to teach your child to recognize vices and encourage him to repentance. I emphasize—don’t write out your children’s sins for them on paper, don’t fish out what he/she said or did not say at confession, don’t force them to go to confession every week, but just encourage them. And here again it is worth recalling St. Nikon’s words: “The best means in this regard is talking about God, reading spiritual books and discussing them together.”
In general, if we turn to Patristic thought, we will not find any instructions to isolate our children from the outside world. And though there are many new challenges of our time, there were also many temptations in antiquity, and therefore the instructions of the early ascetics remain relevant to this day. Here’s another piece of advice from St. Basil the Great: “As long as the soul is capable of being educated, tender and soft like wax, and images are easily imprinted in it, it is necessary to immediately and from the very beginning awaken it to goodness. By the time the intellect develops and reason comes into action, the initial foundations will already have been laid and the models of piety will have been taught. Then the mind will suggest what is useful, and habit will facilitate success.”
Obvious conclusions follow from all that has been said: you need to take care of your child from early childhood, investing in him from early childhood, instilling correct moral values and norms of Christian life. It is necessary to talk and explain to him as much as possible instead of waving your hand and letting it slide. In this case, crying over spilt milk will not work and everything that will be given or not given to our children will certainly impact both their personal future and our relations with them. “We see that a young tree easily leans in any direction and where it leans, it grows in that direction,” St. Tikhon of Zadonsk wrote. “This also applies to a child: He gets used to what he learns, and he will do what he was taught. If he learns goodness in his youth, he will be good all his life. If he learns evil, he will be evil all his life. A child can become both an angel and a demon.”
In addition to what has already been outlined, parents should not forget about personal example and prayer for their children. Only then can there be a high probability that when our child grows up, there will be no thoughts about limiting his contacts with the outside world, because we will see in him a maturing, principled, thinking and strong Christian. Then we won’t have to “scatter ashes on our heads” or “kick ourselves”, regret the lost time and the mistakes we made; then our child will be our joy and consolation.