WE WANT TO SEE our kids grow up like us. It's a primal instinct. Values, culture, morals, religion, way of life we expect (or at least hope) to convey these intact.
In traditional cultures, passing the torch to the next generation tended to go smoothly. The whole society parents, neighbors, teachers, relatives, government sent similar cultural messages. Now, though, how many of us live in traditional cultures?
India, its roots in the best of traditional cultures, is losing touch with its spiritual heritage. Poverty, foreign influence, mundane government, and envy of the wealthy West have robbed India of its Vedic patrimony. And as India gives up the spiritual high ground for the passionate commodity pit of more "developed" countries, Indians living in the West often find themselves spiritually isolated in an ocean of materialism.
ISKCON should provide a unified spiritually-based culture what Srila Prabhupada called "a house in which the whole world can live." When Caitanya Mahaprabhu's prophecies are fulfilled, when Srila Prabhupada's books are the law books for mankind, when we establish a society of simple living and high thinking then we can look forward to a coherent culture that preserves the values, religion, and way of life we want to pass on to our children.
In "Twelve Steps for Success," an article I wrote in 1988, I cautioned ISKCON educators to think realistically about our present cultural atmosphere:
"It would be a mistake to think we live in Vedic culture. For the present, we live in 'ISKCON culture' a unique blend of traditional Vedic culture, modern Indian culture, Western mass culture, and whatever our local culture happens to be."
Given this cultural confusion, parents can expect little help inspiring their children to accept their beliefs and way of life. And what greater pain is there than seeing our kids turn away from our most closely-held possessions: our spiritual way of life, our moral and cultural values, and the very concept of who we are and what our role in life is?
So what can parents do to help their children respect and emulate their way of life? Several academic studies show that different approaches to parenting get different results.
Four Basic Styles
NEGLECTFUL PARENTS tend to flee the responsibilities of parenthood. They may be too busy with their professional lives, or too consumed with their own problems. Their children receive neither discipline nor love.
PERMISSIVE PARENTS love and care about their kids, but fail to set limits. They often fear that discipline will drive children away or interfere with affection.
AUTHORITARIAN PARENTS like to say, "Do it because I say so!" They often fight with their kids and motivate by threats and punishment. Most parents fall into this category.
AUTHORITATIVE PARENTS set consistent, logical limits and are ready to enforce them. Yet they spend time explaining reasons for the limits and teaching their children how to make good decisions on their own.
Results Speak for Themselves
A study by the University of Wisconsin in the 1970's (see bar chart) rated results for these four approaches:
Children of neglectful parents fared consistently low in self-esteem and responded poorly to discipline outside the home (from teachers, pastors, police, and so on). Also, such children rejected their parents' religion and way of life.
Children with permissive upbringing ranked lowest in self-esteem but did better in the other categories than kids with neglectful or authoritarian parents.
Children from authoritarian homes had better self-esteem but were at the bottom in every other ranking.
Children of authoritative parents were consistently at the top in every category.
A twelve-year study by the University of California at Berkeley found similar patterns. Teenagers with permissive backgrounds had immature attitudes, low self-esteem, trouble getting along with peers, and difficulty with school work. They also tended to be sexually promiscuous and heavily involved with drugs.
The authoritarian approach seemed to backfire by adolescence. Though these children used drugs or alcohol less often, they had many emotional problems and were unhappy. They were immature, had poor images of themselves, lacked motivation in school, and scored lowest on standard academic tests.
On the other hand, sons and daughters of authoritative parents showed little problem behavior, were generally satisfied and mature, and scored highest academically.
Qualities of Authoritative Parents
Authoritative parents show a balance of love and discipline. When setting limits or requiring specific behavior, they take the effort to explain why. They're consistent in dealing with their children, and they teach by example.
As followers of spiritual culture, we have natural advantages in these areas, and we should use them. Knowledge of reincarnation and karma offers the most coherent view of the world around us. If we're well-versed in Vedic philosophy, we can give the best reasons for leading a moral, responsible life. Devotion to guru and Krsna provides tangible experience of our personal relationship with God the ultimate motivation for good behavior.
But we must avoid using Vedic philosophy or culture as a tool for blind authoritarianism. In the moral void of modern society, it won't work to tell our children to do it our way "because that's what I did when I was your age." Nor will it be enough to ply our kids with platitudes and dogma. Guilt and threats of future lowly births won't work either.
The philosophy of the Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam is beautiful, comprehensive, and logical. If we know and live that philosophy ourselves, while explaining it in relevant ways to our children, we will be successful parents.
Sri Rama Dasa is Chairman of the ISKCON Board of Education. Send correspondence to 3764 Watseka Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90034.