Will restrictions help or hamper the growth of your child? Find out here…
Sometimes parents express doubts or concerns about placing so many restrictions on children, such as no television, no un-offered food (Hare Krishna devotees only eat food offered to Krishna), or mundane parties. Are these restrictions healthy for a child? Will they make him or her resentful?
Some restrictions, we all agree, are good for children. We know, for example, that restricting children from playing with matches or eating before brushing their teeth is good for them. We also know that children, if allowed, will play all day but we need to restrict their play time so that they can be educated.
TRAINING IN THE BEGINNING YEARS
Just as these material restrictions are necessary to keep a sound mind and healthy body, similarly spiritual rules and regulations are necessary to keep the soul happy. We are minute spirit souls, part and parcel of Krishna, and our happiness lies in reviving our lost relationship with Him. No amount of material assets can make us happy.
In order to revive this lost relationship with Krishna, the scriptures enjoin that we voluntarily undergo some tapasya, or austerities, to cleanse the body, mind and heart. These austerities are chanting the holy name, eating only prasada or food offered to Krishna, rising early in the morning, and avoiding the four pillars of sinful life, namely, meat eating, illicit sex, gambling and intoxication. Furthermore, any activity that contaminates our minds and discourages us from following these rules such as watching mundane television, associating closely with non-devotees, and eating outside food should be avoided. Without this basic discipline, it is very difficult for us to advance in Krishna consciousness. The restrictions provide a foundation upon which we can cultivate our love for Krishna.
Children who are not trained in a spiritual environment often succumb to the lures of illicit sex and drugs later in their life. Recently, I met a young woman who was very distraught because her 20-year-old best friend suffered a drug overdose willfully and died. Sadly, this is very common today, as evidenced by the spiraling rate of suicides and consumption of anti-depressant pills among the youth. Young people are disillusioned with life, especially due to bad relationships. The educational institutions give no information about the soul or the real purpose of life. Instead they are encouraging young people to simply pursue careers that make a lot of money to the exclusion of any higher goal. We should understand that if we do not raise our children in a Krishna conscious environment, in the name of giving them more “choices,” we are actually training them in a materialistic lifestyle. There is no such thing as a “neutral” upbringing.
Srila Prabhupada says, “They cannot learn because they do not undergo austerity. That is the defect. No education is there how to perform austerity. Therefore Vedic civilization is how to teach small children austerities. That is brahmachari. So we want to start this brahmachari-ashrama, or gurukula, to learn austerity from the beginning of life. Then their life will be successful.” (Srila Prabhupada lecture, Bhag. 7.9.35)
One concern among parents is that too many restrictions will make their children curious and rebellious later on, so that they indulge in the “forbidden fruits” that were denied to them in childhood. For example, a patient may be restricted from eating certain foods, but he still has a desire for them, and he eats them as soon as he is well.
Srila Prabhupada responds to this concern by explaining that children should be given rules alongside the joys of Krishna consciousness, and thus they will regard them as fun rather than restrictions. The taste for lower pleasures will go away by experiencing the higher taste of Krishna consciousness. Practically speaking, there are no restrictions but only an exchange of something better for something inferior. Srila Prabhupada said:
“Don’t say “no”, but give a taste for the good, then it will be automatically “no.” And if you say “no” then they will rebel. The four “no”’s, that is very difficult. Still they are breaking. No illicit sex, they are breaking. But if they develop Krishna consciousness, this will be automatically “no”. So don’t bring many “no”s, but give them positive life. Then it will be automatically “no” And if you say “no” that will be a struggle. This is the psychology. Positive engagement is devotional service. So if they are attracted by devotional service, other things will be automatically “no” Param drstva nivartate. Just like Ekadasi day. Ekadasi day, we observe fasting. And there are many patients in the hospital, they are also fasting. But they’ll “No, no.” They’ll, within heart, “If I get, I shall eat, I shall eat.” But those who are devotees, they voluntarily say “no.” (Conversation, July 31, 1976)
These “restrictions” are steps towards the ultimate goal of life, and they are actually enjoyable once we get accustomed to them, because they cleanse the body externally and internally. Pure habits are in the mode of goodness, and the mode of goodness makes a person happy and peaceful. The mind becomes clear and free of useless clutter, making it much easier to focus on Krishna. Srila Prabhupada explains:
“Children especially are inclined to appreciate Krishna’s pastimes, so begin by reading to them from Krishna Book. They are not yet covered by false prestige and will very quickly take to tapasya as if it were amusing like a game! Just see the young brahmacaris in India. The guru says, “Do this, do that,” and immediately they do. They go out and beg all day in the hot sun and come back with a little rice, then take rest on the floor with no covering. And they are enjoying; it is pleasurable to them to work very hard. So it is very important to train children to endure all sorts of hardships and restrictions at the boyhood stage. Later, no one will renounce what he has accepted as the standard of enjoyment, to accept a standard of less enjoyment.” (Letter to Himavati, 1976)
If children are trained firmly but lovingly, they will enjoy all kinds of austerities, accepting them as fun and play. Austerities such as chanting, getting up early in the morning, eating only prasada and learning the principles of Krishna consciousness are easy for children because they have not been conditioned any other way. While avoiding meat may feel like a restriction to us, for a child who has never tasted meat it is only natural. The same is true with avoiding illicit sex, gambling and intoxication. Therefore, when we give them these restrictions from the beginning of their lives, they consider them enjoyable and fun.
When I was home schooling my children, we did not watch any television. The boys never missed it, and we never thought of turning it on. Not watching TV was not an austerity for them because the higher taste of Krishna consciousness was there. We did not eat outside food, but prasada was even better. By reading Srimad-Bhagavatam, they understood the proper way of relating to the opposite sex, and the dangers of loose behavior. I did not have to impose restrictions on them, because these habits became part of their culture, and they understood the reasons behind them by studying scripture.
Sometimes acquaintances told us that we were being too harsh on our children by not allowing them to eat at restaurants, go to movies, etc. But all who criticized were also impressed by the children’s bright happy faces and good behavior. They knew that devotee children were different, clean inside and outside.
Another concern that parents have is what to do when their children do not want to follow these rules. Due to association with friends in school or in the neighborhood, children want to play video games, watch television, or eat unoffered food.
Good association is essential for spiritual advancement and character formation. Children are very impressionable, and when they watch television or play video games with their friends, they can develop the desire themselves. Nevertheless, the process of hearing and chanting is very powerful, and it can change our hearts by placing us in transcendental association. So if we continue with our Krishna consciousness at home, by Krishna’s mercy, they will overcome their attraction and develop a higher taste.
Our love for our children should not make us blind to what is good for them. That would be misplaced bodily love. We will be their real well-wishers if we make a sincere effort to give them Krishna consciousness so that they can use all their senses in a way that is pleasing to Krishna. And as they grow older, our children will appreciate the strong character that we have instilled in them. They will use these good values as the basis for a life that is healthy, pleasing to Krishna, and beneficial for others.
Aruddha Devi Dasi is a disciple of His Holiness Gopala Krishna Goswami Maharaja. She home-schooled her two children in USA, where she resides with her family.
Readers interested in learning more can join her internet group www.krishnahomeschool.com