“Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him.” (ESV)
We live in a culture that worships youth. We fight the signs of aging (there are apparently seven of them). We resist the pull of the years. We celebrate youth movements. We look for the young people to come and save us. If a movement or idea is sparked by young people it is automatically assumed to be good and wise. We are told to let children be themselves. The truth, though, is that while it is good the humanity of young people is recognized and defended more than it used to be, most of this cultural moment is foolish to the highest degree.
The simple fact is (and which adults used to assume as a general truism about life) that children do not naturally know or go toward the right. Young people have much more passion than knowledge or wisdom. Passion is wonderful, but without knowledge and wisdom it often winds up misdirected and misapplied to feelings and causes that will not lead to positive ends.
More basically than that, young people do not naturally know right from wrong. They are driven by what they want to the exclusion of all else. To be fair, adults don’t know this naturally either if we have not learned it over time.
Given all of this, the very worst thing adults can do for children and teenagers is to create an environment in which they are told that they should be whoever they want to be and that whatever they want is good and right. Far from protecting them from undue pain and heartache, this creates a climate in which they make their heart and their feelings god. The end of this road is only ever disaster.
What young people need more than anything save the Gospel (and when this is done well, it helps to point them in that direction) is discipline. They need an environment in which they are told what is right and wise, and then gently ushered in that direction often over and against their own preferences. The reason for this is just like Solomon wrote here: Children are born with folly in their hearts. Only discipline can drive this out. As parents and adults generally we must commit ourselves to this. The future…our future…their future…depends on it.