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  • Family and Society
  • Children's Upbringing

Educating Children to Obedience or Independence?

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Rabbi Ari Shvat

Shevat 5, 5782
Question
Shalom HaRav, There is this unusual saying that i have heard, saying that if a parent would tell their child, " im going over there for a minute, sit right here and don’t move", and the child who does not move must mean that he is mentally disturbed and ill, while the child that decides to get up and run around and play is the normal one. Is such things explained and touched on in gemora by the sages of blessed memory? The question being which is more valued, obedience of a child to parent to the lettter, or the will to make your own decisions (as a child following his own mind - and being a child) ? This seems like a old fashioned saying! Personally I think children should be obedient and that it would not hamper the enjoyment of a full childhood.
Answer
This is a large topic well beyond the scope of this concise framework. I'll just say that respect for God, parents and teachers who give over the traditions, is extremely important and obedience is connected with that. On the other hand, both Gedula and Gevura are Godly traits, where the 1st is basic greatness, and the latter is to overcome difficulties and challenges. Some children are born with great traits (and/or nurture them from their parents and society, as well), while others have difficulty sitting and obeying, not to mention social and intellectual challenges. Life is full of challenges, and one of the keys to success in everything is self-control (see the Stanford "Marshmallow experiment") which is much easier if learned from a young age. On the other hand, too much obedience, especially in today's democratic society, can break a child or "mush" him into weakness which is also bad. As regarding all issues, the "middle road" is the best path, finding the "happy medium" between teaching Independence/Confidence/Free-Will but also Self-Control (in truth, the combination of the two is that the greatest independence/free will is to be so free and independent that you have the strength to choose to give up your short-term pleasures, for the sake of long-term or eternal pleasures), and also being flexible to meet the subjective needs of each child, who has a unique and different spark of God in their soul, and each individual situation.
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