Our rules for children are tools we use to protect them from the damage that results from violating natural law. Until they grow up to understand and incorporate moral laws into their own minds and hearts, they need our rules.
Children easily see how violations of the physical law of gravity will injure them if they’ve jumped off a wall that’s too high, but perhaps have a more difficult time seeing how breaking moral laws will weaken their reason and conscience. They need our help in forming their internal guidance system.
Adults understand the universal laws that govern life,
like the laws of justice or gravity or liberty–laws that are both natural and moral. We know that these laws are not arbitrary–violations of these principles bring destruction in their wake.
Isn’t that why we start with simple rules when children are young?
Your 3-year-old knows he must brush his teeth before bedtime each night and that is because you understand the law behind the rule (the second law of thermodynamics which states that things tend toward disorder). If your child doesn’t brush his teeth, they will decay. You insist on instilling this habit because you know what cavities can lead to, even though he does not.
As children mature we help them understand the reasons for the rules.
We communicate verbally and non-verbally that we are most concerned about how breaking moral laws degrades the mental faculties that recognize and respond to good.
At a time when the Buddha was teaching his son Rahula to live a life of integrity, the eight-year-old told a deliberate lie. Nearby was a bowl with very little water left in it. The Buddha asked, “Rahula, do you see the small quantity of water left in the bowl?” “Yes,” replied Rahula. “As little as this,” the Buddha said, “is the spiritual life of someone who is not ashamed at telling a deliberate lie.”
Children need our help in forming their internal guidance system. Click to Tweet