When the eleven-year-old walks through the gates of their secondary school for the very first time, it is the beginning of the first day of a most challenging period in their lives. It is not only challenging for them, but also for their parents. There is a major leap from primary to secondary education as a huge culture change is about to take place in their education. How will they cope with what they will be taught, especially with what is contrary to the word of God? This latter issue does not simply affect a secondary school student who is saved or one who comes from a Christian home. There is the alarming consequence of unsaved teenagers being turned away from divine truth, thereby instilling in their minds an opposing attitude to spiritual matters in these impressionable years.
What is taught in Sunday schools and Bible classes is denied in the classroom. One of the main thrusts of opposition to the truth of holy scripture is the teaching of Darwin’s theory of evolution and that the earth came into being by ‘The Big Bang’. The creatorial glory and work of God and the foundation verse of Genesis chapter 1 verse 1 is utterly ignored and denied. Upon this basis, the young are led further into a multitude of ideas and statements which completely deny what the Bible teaches. Religious Education teaching varies enormously. Many years ago, it was Bible based, but now embraces religions from around the globe. This has broadly put Christianity in its widest sense as just another religion alongside the rest. Sadly, young people become confused with little concept of what is truth. Planting confusion concerning spiritual matters in anyone’s mind is one of Satan’s most powerful weapons against the word of God. Its origin goes back to the garden of Eden in Genesis chapter 3 verse 1 where the serpent uttered those words, ‘Yea, hath God said …?’; a theme of the adversary throughout the centuries.
In most United Kingdom schools, there is a daily gathering of all students (sometimes only in year groups) in what is described as ‘an act of Christian worship’. Whilst these have varied over many years, they have now been replaced by lectures on discipline and school rules, celebrations of special events, talks by personnel from the emergency services, charity workers, careers advisors and well-known figures in the community. Some of these may have been helpful, but they have tended to replace the important value of the spiritual input. However, despite all the pressures politically and academically to sink the subject into the mire of error and humanism, there are a few Christian teachers and believers who go into schools to take assemblies trying to redress this imbalance. They need our prayers.
Political and healthcare pressure has also brought the subject of sex education very much to the fore, and the impact upon the background, sensitivity, age and culture of both the children and the desire of their parents can be neglected. Many believers would be shocked by the way in which childhood innocence has been ridden roughshod over and the way in which homosexuality and gender identity are presented. This has had a distinct bearing particularly upon secondary school life.
There have always been problems facing Christian school students and one all too common which some often experience is bullying. Bullying, both physical and verbal, takes place despite a great deal of strategic debate over many years.
It still haunts school life and has escalated with cyber bullying through the widespread ownership of personal technological devices such as mobile phones and the pressure to be part of a social media platform or closed group. This whole subject is very much in the ‘hard to deal with’ area. It keeps on being visited with good intentions. Sadly, a conclusive answer eludes those seeking to combat the problem. However, parents can be perceptive to changes in their child’s behaviour, the small signs that all is not well.
Progress educationally can be hindered in the classroom by behavioural issues, and this is regularly tackled through various strategies, policy changes, staff training courses and the emergence of ‘experts’. Teachers work hard with the problem but so often the root cause lies outside the school environment in homes and street peer groups.
Theft is another challenge. In some cases, there are students who are regularly involved in both stealing in school and selling to classmates goods that have been shoplifted locally. Scams involving mobile phones are not uncommon either. Smoking illegally obtained cigarettes together with drugs, both in dealing and taking on the premises, blight some schools. Computers now play a big part in education. Very quickly students become proficient in their use which gives them skill to expand their learning. Unfortunately, this gives them the ability to access the dreadful material so easily viewed on the screen.
The reader may question, why catalogue all these problems? Haven’t there always been difficulties to overcome? To the second question the answer is ‘yes’, but many in assembly fellowship went to school over half a century ago and it is easy to imagine school life based upon school stories which were avidly read in the mid-twentieth century. The rise of a freethinking, rebellious society is now reflected in every walk of life and, sadly, so often this prevails at every level of education.
It is a challenge to children who are saved and those who are not saved but come from a Christian home. They can become quite fearful of students whose conduct is disruptive and threatening. They will hear and see things they have never encountered before. Ungodly influences will be brought to bear upon them.
What is the answer? What can be done to alleviate these difficulties? Some would suggest home schooling but that is very demanding.
How many parents have all the virtues of academic ability, the aptitude to teach well, patience, time, resources, and suitable accommodation to successfully meet the demands of achieving a good education for their child or children. There are good private schools, at a cost beyond the means of many, some of which have an evangelical ethos, but they are few.
First, there is one major contribution which every believer can be active in and that is to pray daily for the welfare of everyone they know by name who is at school. Whether it is family, children of friends and neighbours or any other child one is acquainted with. The throne of grace is the place to petition for their spiritual welfare, safe keeping, and blessing. Do not forget to tell them that you are praying for them too. For many children, an interest in their progress at school is also a great encouragement. One may have to listen to an explanation of photosynthesis, what makes up the periodic table, why the Romans built their roads straight, and a vast multitude of other subjects. So be it. If you are interested in their learning, you are interested in them. Being interested in their life, their welfare, and their needs without being judgemental is a giant step to helping them along the pathway of life. A listening ear may well also pick up on issues such as bullying and enable you to work with them to do something about it.
Is not this how the Lord Jesus Himself met the needs of so many whilst He was here on earth? Observe, in John chapter 4, how He graciously converses with the woman at the well. Think of the way He compassionately spoke with the woman who touched the hem of his garment,1 His response to the roadside cry of blind Bartimaeus, Mark 10. 46-52, and the sweet fellowship with the despondent couple on the road to Emmaus, Luke 24. 15-32.
Second, the challenge of school life should be counterbalanced by a calm, loving, supportive and secure home life. For believers, a loving, caring home life is a prime responsibility.
In an age of defiance, you cannot tell a child something is wrong if they cannot see that which is right being practised in their own home and family. Teenagers are encouraged to inquire widely, listen to diverse ideas, and arguments and ask questions, some of which are very challenging. In former days, some adults would dismiss these with the remark that ‘we do not talk about things like that’ or ‘you do not need to know such things’. Teenagers in the 21st century cannot have their questions brushed aside. If parents will not answer them, then they will most likely get the answer from worldly-wise students at school. These types of questions cannot be ignored behind the skirts of ‘preserved respectability’ or an air of moral superiority. They may not agree or like the straightforward spiritual or moral answers, although it may surprise some adults that often teenagers accept and even respect a straightforward clear answer even if they do not personally agree.
Third, providing a biblical perspective on some of the topics taught will also be a help, offering guidance on the social and moral ills our children encounter. The Bible gives many sad accounts of the outcomes of such behaviour and the fact that the consequences were far-reaching. There are also a multitude of very helpful sources that present the truth of creation and that use able and often distinguished scientists to do it. Elders may be able to tackle some of the issues through Bible Class topics or in the home.
There are no instant fixes. Parents cannot assume that their teenage children will have the same strong beliefs and convictions as themselves. That is why there is a need for scriptural principles to be practised and nourished in every realm of life. The Lord Jesus loves children, which is so beautifully illustrated throughout the Gospels.2 He displayed a compassionate interest in their welfare. So should every believer. It is important to state that there is a multitude of very able, caring and committed schoolteachers who may not necessarily agree with everything which they are required to teach, but work hard to ensure that those in their charge receive a good education and are shielded from unrighteous conduct. They need the prayers of all God’s people.
Pray earnestly for all who pass through the school gates each weekday morning that God will be glorified through every teacher and that each student will be blessed with that which is profitable for their wellbeing whether spiritually, morally, or physically. Above all, every believer should take to heart that the parents of teenagers do not need your criticism, they need and will value your prayers. Take the example of Epaphras, whom Paul commends as one who is ‘always labouring fervently for you in prayers, that ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God’, Col. 4. 12. It is easy to quote but do we fully understand the immense value and privilege of a fervent prayer life? May the Lord give us compassionate, concerned hearts of love for the teenagers in these dark and evil days.[Editorial Note: The author spent a number of years working in secondary education]