“Unto us a child is born.” So the prophet heralded in words close to the heart of every parent God’s greatest gift to lost humanity. No wonder Paul, contemplating the glorious fulfillment of Isaiah’s announcement, exclaimed, “Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift.” When God came into human life he entrusted his only begotten Son to an earthly home, and the Saviour was reared by a godly mother and her devout husband. Immeasurably above us by reason of his Deity, the Child of Bethlehem has an essential bond with us through his humanity. And the joyous exclamation, “Unto us a child is born,” re-echoes whenever the Giver of all life entrusts a new life to a father and mother.

The bond between our imperfect humanity and the perfect Son of God lends poignancy to the youth problem. The sad paradox is that children who should be our greatest joy bring sorrow to many a home. Among the domestic problems of our nation, none is greater than that of delinquent youth. It is ironic that the announcement of the Population Reference Bureau that this year a total of 3.1 million persons in the United States will celebrate their seventeenth birthday—nearly one million more than the number of seventeen-year-olds in 1963—is accompanied by a note of foreboding, as it points to inevitable social problems of which delinquency is foremost. The increase of crimes committed by American young people has been almost three times as great as the phenomenal growth in adolescent population. So much for the sheer magnitude of the problem. Though reasons why youth go astray are complex, it is possible to isolate some of the basic factors leading to juvenile delinquency and, having isolated them, to point to remedies.

Chief among these factors is the deprivation of youth. And contributing to their deprivation is their exploitation. Few generations of children have been more pampered materially than this one. On the other hand, few have been so deprived of what they most need for growth into strong and responsible maturity.

Wherein lie their exploitation and deprivation? Answers to the question shout at us from every side. Recent decades have witnessed the mushroom growth of the cult of the teen-ager, so that we are fast becoming a teen-age society. Mass-media publicity of latest adolescent fads; bigger allowances and promotion of charge accounts for youngsters (teen-age income now totals $12 billion annually); automobiles as teen-age status symbols; special telephones for offspring of the affluent; emotional and sexual over-stimulation through the moral looseness of the day and through the social precocity demanded of children by ambitious parents—these are only a few symptoms of the exploitation of youth.

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The result is that young people have been led to believe that the teen-age years are the apex of life instead of a preparatory step toward manhood and womanhood. Thus millions of our youth are being cheated out of precious experiences of childhood which, once past, can never be regained. Adult pressures, often selfish and at best thoughtless, emphasize the outward accouterments of maturity. But growth must come from within. The process of maturation cannot be hurried, and to give immature youth the prerogatives of maturity before they are ready to handle them leads to trouble.

Along with emphasis upon material things and the development of forced maturity, there goes the deprivation of youth. This transcends even the loss of authentic childhood experiences. The deepest deprivation is emotional and spiritual. It may well be that the future history of education will judge as a critical defect of the American home and school of the last four decades the failure to understand that for youth authority is both creative and essential. Parents and schools that do not have the moral fortitude to say “no” to children are depriving them of the very foundation of emotional stability. Behind the burst of juvenile criminality is disrespect for law, and behind disrespect for law is disrespect for authority.

In a powerful phrase in Second Thessalonians, the Apostle Paul speaks of “the mystery of lawlessness.” Though eschatological, the phrase has a present significance. It is interesting that in certain New Testament contexts the word “mystery” refers to what has become an open secret. Behind the lawlessness among youth today, whether in Harlem riots or in Labor Day disorders of more privileged youth at Hampton Beach, New Hampshire, or Seaside, Oregon, the “mystery” is a want of respect for authority. Young people devoid of an inner structure of authority just do not have what is essential for growth into maturity.

The Fifth Commandment declares, “Honor thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.” But for children to obey this commandment, parents must pay a price. They must be worthy of honor. They must not cheat in matters of integrity. They must have the strength to demand of children the respect and obedience that are a true expression of love. Let parents never think that they can cut corners in ethics, nourish their prejudices, live chiefly for the things of this world, maintain a religious and even an evangelical front, and at the same time receive from clear-eyed youth loving respect and obedience.

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One of the sociological phenomena in America is that in great cities like New York and San Francisco that have a considerable Chinese community, juvenile delinquency among these people is practically unknown. The acknowledged reason is the firm structure of authority in the Chinese family. Surely it is a reproach to a nominally Christian nation that children from homes of a non-Christian culture have a moral stability lacking in our youth.

Isaiah said of the virgin-born Child, “His name shall be called Immanuel.” And now, when it is hard to be a Christian and hard also to be a Christian parent, let believing fathers and mothers find strength and comfort in knowing that the Holy Child who came into this lost, suffering, sinful world on the first Christmas is their “Immanuel.” He is never more truly “God with us” than when we strive humbly and in accord with the Scriptures to lead our children to that loving respect and obedience that are the basis of character strong enough to withstand the winds of the shoddy ethics and moral relativism blowing so persistently in our society.

Children must be evangelized; they must know the way of salvation. The Child of Bethlehem was called not only “Immanuel” but also “Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins.” Yet Christian nurture remains an inescapable obligation. Parents and schools that fail to instill respect for authority have yet to take the first step in preparing youth to face “the mystery of lawlessness” so prevalent today.

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