At age 16 our son said: “Mom, I can’t learn from you anymore. I can’t learn from Dad, either. I have to learn for myself.” Although what he said hurt, inside I smiled somewhat because, quite frankly, it was too late. We had already taught him. Years of family home evening, family prayer, and scripture study had laid a foundation that he could reject, perhaps, but not ignore. Once truth is etched in the heart by the Spirit of the Holy Ghost, it becomes an integral part of a person and must be dealt with. A child so taught will never be the same!
In those early years of rearing children, however, we had a difficult time being consistent with scripture study and family prayer. After several failed attempts, we decided it was time to truly establish the habit. We set a goal to read 30 consecutive days with our young family. Despite our good intentions, after many days of reading faithfully we would miss a day or two and have to begin our count over again. Finally we asked the children what might help us reach our goal, and they decided to work toward a night out at a nice restaurant. Breaking old habits can be difficult, but after five months of effort we finally managed to read 30 consecutive days. On the appointed day, the children arrived home from school full of anticipation and quickly dressed in their Sunday best. Then off we went for a wonderful evening.
That early effort was important. It marked the beginning of consistent, meaningful scripture study that has borne, and continues to bear, great fruit in the lives of our children.
Each family is given a “window of time” in which to teach children correct principles. While parents often think in terms of 18 to 20 years to raise a child, those years are not of equal worth. Recognizing that children are more receptive in earlier years, the Lord commanded parents to teach their children the basic doctrines of the gospel by age eight (see D&C 68:25).
Within this window of time, children are innocent and Satan cannot tempt them. “Wherefore, they cannot sin, for power is not given unto Satan to tempt little children, until they begin to be accountable” (D&C 29:47). No wonder this is such a teachable time! During these early years, young children are without guile and hold a special love for us as parents. They love our stories and greatly benefit from family prayer and scripture study, and they generally are receptive to our teachings. This is our window of opportunity to establish a firm gospel foundation.
What, exactly, are we responsible to teach? We are to teach our children what missionaries teach investigators: faith, repentance, baptism, and the gift of the Holy Ghost. Until they develop their own testimonies, children are, in essence, our investigators.
All too soon, though, our influence may wane. If we let this opportunity pass, the same efforts made at a later time may be less well received. The time comes in the life of each child when Satan is no longer held back: “And that wicked one cometh and taketh away light and truth. …
“But I have commanded you to bring up your children in light and truth” (D&C 93:39–40).
When families study the scriptures, kneel in prayer, and participate in family home evening, they experience light. The light of the Spirit attends such activities, and rearing children in light and truth protects them and prepares them for future challenges. In addition, parents can employ the “drip method” of teaching gospel truths. Day in and day out, knowledge is gained through the example of daily living and stored for future use. This slow but steady infusion of light and truth, added to consistent scripture study, prayer, and family home evening, will guide children’s decisions for years to come. Then, when the time comes for parents to let go, the foundation established by this continual teaching has been laid and is available to children as they grow in maturity and search for moorings amid the storms of life.
Some young people try their adult wings and for a time push against standards. Their behavior may belie their gospel understanding, but the ideals taught them in childhood remain embedded. Consciously or unconsciously, as they grow up they weigh actions against truths previously learned in the home. Truth resisted brings anxiety and inner turmoil. The young man or woman who chooses to disregard the commandments may experience momentary pleasure but in the long run is denied inner peace because “wickedness never was happiness” (Alma 41:10).
The influence of light and truth constantly attends our properly trained youth. It continues on through the efforts of families who refuse to give up and who continue to beseech the Lord in their children’s behalf. As with Alma the Elder’s prayers for his son, Heavenly Father often responds to the prayers of righteous parents (see Mosiah 27:14).
One young man admitted that “the whole time I was partying I didn’t enjoy myself. I knew what I was doing was wrong.” Lack of peace is the crack in the tough exterior of rebellious youth, and it may widen with time to allow the Spirit to once again work on him or her. The young man continued: “I knew I had to change now, or I would ruin my whole life!”
Another struggling youth recalled: “I was 7,000 miles away from home. One day, in an instant, I was given to know that everything I was so desperately seeking was back in my parents’ home. I began the long journey back home. When I was almost there, I threw away my cigarettes and coffee. I didn’t want telltale signs going home with me that might disappoint loved ones.”
It can be frightening to watch a child make decisions parents know will bring pain and sorrow into their lives. However, when we have done our part by laying a solid gospel foundation, setting righteous examples, and pleading with the Lord through prayer, we can let go of our fear and put our trust and faith in Heavenly Father and His plan. Our children were His long before coming into our lives, and He is also working to bring them back into the fold.
In due time, when shallow pleasures pass and a son or daughter is again receptive, recollections of early teachings often resurface, allowing the Spirit to gently bring peace back into troubled lives. How wise parents are who heed the counsel to teach their children the gospel while they are young! Indeed, any early effort to establish consistent scripture study, family prayer, and family home evening will pay great dividends in the long run.