Train Up a Child
April 1978

“Train Up a Child,” Ensign, Apr. 1978, 2

First Presidency Message

“Train Up a Child”

This year as we commemorate the centennial of the organization of the Primary, we are increasingly aware that children throughout the world need Primary. They must learn while young to live gospel principles and to develop testimonies that Jesus is the Savior, the Son of our Heavenly Father. How better can we reach these children than by following the Savior’s example? He loved them; He took them in His arms and blessed them. Children today need to be taught as Jesus taught—with love, understanding, compassion, and patience. No effort is too great; no labor more worthwhile. We must bring the blessings of Primary into the life of every child.

In the beginning the Lord created male and female and instructed them to multiply and replenish the earth. He told them to look after their children and teach them righteousness.

Our Heavenly Father placed the responsibility upon parents to see that their children are well fed, well groomed and clothed, well trained, and well taught. Most parents protect their children with shelter—they tend and care for their diseases, provide clothes for their safety and their comfort, and supply food for their health and growth. But what do they do for their souls?

On a cold winter day most children set out for school warmly clothed. The soles of their shoes are thick, and they wear boots over them. They wear heavy coats, with scarves around their necks and mittens on their hands—all to protect them from the inclemency of the weather. But are these same children protected against the mistaken ideologies and ideas of other youth and the temptations of the day?

The skin diver wears a heavy rubber suit to protect his body from the cold, but are children protected by prayer and family unity and spiritual training to shield them from the cold, dark world in which they eat and drink and sleep and play?

The outdoor worker is protected against the elements by proper apparel, but how often are children fully protected by a life of family devotion, family love and respect, family understanding, proper training and discipline?

Many years ago we went to one of the Iron Curtain countries when we were touring the world. Soldiers inspected our car very carefully as we crossed the border. They checked everything and then told us to go ahead.

We drove around a war-torn city looking for the place where there was supposed to be a little meeting. People were looking out of their windows watching us, and so we drove a little farther than our destination and walked back to the meeting place.

We knocked and the door was opened. When we entered, we noticed that the walls and windows were covered with blankets for privacy.

We attended a series of meetings at which many people were in attendance. My first questions to these faithful Saints were these: “How do you get along with your children? Are they taught about God in their school?”

They said, “No. The teachers teach them that there is no God and teach them many other things that are opposed to what we believe.”

Then I asked, “If every day the children receive that kind of training, how do you keep them faithful to the Church?”

One of the brethren said, “We’re holding our children. They still go on missions, they still believe in God, they still pray, and they still do all of the things that are required of good Latter-day Saint boys and girls. We, as parents, provide good homes for them and continue to teach and train them righteously. Therefore, what they hear in the daytime from a godless school teacher makes no difference to them. It just runs off like water on a duck’s back.”

When children go off to school or to play with their friends, parents cannot be totally sure of what they are learning. But if parents take time at home each evening to explain the gospel program to their children, it will offset the negative things they may get during the day.

Now the Lord knew this—that is why he revealed to us that we should have family home evening every Monday night and on additional nights whenever we wish. I wonder what this world would be like if every father and mother gathered their children around them at least every Monday evening, explaining the gospel and bearing fervent testimonies to them. How could immorality continue, infidelity break up families, and delinquency spawn? Divorce would reduce, and many such courts would close.

“And you will not suffer your children that they go hungry, or naked; neither will ye suffer that they transgress the laws of God, and fight and quarrel one with another, and serve the devil, who is the master of sin, or who is the evil spirit which hath been spoken of by our fathers, he being an enemy to all righteousness.

“But ye will teach them to walk in the ways of truth and soberness; ye will teach them to love one another, and to serve one another.” (Mosiah 4:14–15.)

Parents can develop respect for others’ property and rights in their growing children by example and precept. Parents who require their youngsters to apologize and make good and return—perhaps even double or triple—that which they have taken, broken, or destroyed—those children will be honorable citizens and will bring honor and glory to their parents. Those parents who themselves respect law and order and observe all the rules can, by that pattern and by their expression of approval or disapproval, discipline and protect their children against disorder and rebellion. Inner disciplines are substituting for the outer ones as the outer ones become habitual and effective. As one is obedient to his own sound principles, it is far more important and gratifying than obedience to others’.

We often find men capable of governing a world who cannot rule their own household or the restless minds of their own children and cannot bridle their own passions. Is it possible that the shocking irreverence of many of the rising generation can be traced to the irreverence of their parents? Can children be expected to be spiritual and religious and reverent if their parents show no such interest themselves?

As parents read the newspapers and magazines and see what the world is trying to teach their children, they should become all the more determined that their children not be damaged by such sin and error. Parents should then provide the home life, the discipline, and the training that will offset and neutralize the evil that is being done in the world. As children learn of the ugly things in the world, they must also learn of the good things in the world and the proper responses and proper attitudes. If parents understand that many children are denied family prayers and spiritual attitudes and proper teaching in their lives, then those parents should redouble their energies and their efforts to see that their own children receive good, wholesome training.

The prophet Lehi, greatly concerned about his posterity, said, “But behold, my sons and my daughters, I cannot go down to my grave save I should leave a blessing upon you; for behold, I know that if ye are brought up in the way ye should go ye will not depart from it.” (2 Ne. 4:5.) Lehi went further and said, “Wherefore, if ye are cursed, behold, I leave my blessing upon you, that the cursing may be taken from you and be answered upon the heads of your parents.” (2 Ne. 4:6.) Are we, as parents, prepared to assume the curses, the responsibilities, for what our children fail to do?

The Book of Mormon begins with the words, “I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents, therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father; and having seen many afflictions in the course of my days, nevertheless, having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days; yea, having had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God, therefore I make a record of my proceedings in my days.” (1 Ne. 1:1.) All his days Nephi had been under the tutelage of his parents and had received good treatment from them.

We also note that Enos, who wrote a small part of the Book of Mormon, said, “Behold, it came to pass that I, Enos, knowing my father that he was a just man—for he taught me in his language, and also in the nurture and admonition of the Lord—and blessed be the name of my God for it.” (Enos 1:1.) Enos no doubt had problems of his own, but he went forward to solve them and gave credit to his father for the good training he had received.

On the other hand, the scriptures condemn fathers and mothers when they fail to do their duty. Eli, the high priest, was charged with the serious sins of his sons. The Lord whispered through Samuel, “I will perform against Eli all things which I have spoken concerning his house. …

“Because his sons made themselves vile, and he restrained them not.” (1 Sam. 3:12–13.)

In modern times the Lord said, “Now, I, the Lord, am not well pleased with the inhabitants of Zion, for there are idlers among them; and their children are also growing up in wickedness.” (D&C 68:31.) We do not rear children just to please our vanity. We bring children into the world to become kings and queens, priests and priestesses for our Lord.

To Frederick G. Williams, the Lord said, “You have continued under this condemnation;

“You have not taught your children light and truth, … and that wicked one hath power, as yet, over you, and this is the cause of your affliction. …

“If you will be delivered you shall set in order your own house, for there are many things that are not right in your house.” (D&C 93:41–43.)

Turning to Sidney Rigdon, the Lord charged, “Verily, I say unto my servant Sidney Rigdon, that in some things he hath not kept the commandments concerning his children; therefore, first set in order thy house.” (D&C 93:44.)

And then the Lord said, “What I say unto one I say unto all; pray always lest that wicked one have power in you, and remove you out of your place.” (D&C 93:49.)

How sad if the Lord should charge any of us parents with having failed to teach our children. Truly a tremendous responsibility falls upon a couple when they bring children into the world. Not only food, clothes, and shelter are required of them, but loving, kindly disciplining, teaching, and training.

Of course, there are a few disobedient souls regardless of training and teaching, but the great majority of children respond to such parental guidance. The scripture says, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” (Prov. 22:6.) And if he departs, he will probably return if he has been brought up in the right way.

Had Israel’s fathers and mothers done their full duty to their children, would Palestinian forests have vanished, their hills been denuded? Would their power have been broken, their heaven made as iron, their earth as brass? Would hunger have stalked the land? Would mothers have devoured their own children? Would the people again have been taken in bondage?

Had every father in Babylon, assisted by the mother, taught and trained little ones in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, would that great city have been covered with sand and its corruption buried in the earth, its springs dried up, its temples toppled? Would drunken revelry have lulled them from an awareness of their danger? Would palms and willows have withered, and would lands be dried and desolate? Would Babylon have become a hiss and a byword, and would the wolf and the jackal, the owl and the doleful creatures be its only inhabitants, and the shepherd and the Arabian avoid the haunted place?

Had every father in ancient Rome been teaching his sons righteousness instead of war and every mother making a home for her children; had all parents assembled their children in their own homes instead of the circuses and the public baths; had they taught their children chastity and honor and integrity and cleanness—would ancient Rome still be a world power? Certainly it was not the barbarian from the north but the insidious moral termites within that destroyed the old Roman world empire.

Had the parents of the world from Adam down carried on their home teaching, their family home evenings, their home togetherness, and sweet family life as ordained by the Lord, would there have been a world deluge, a Tower of Babel, a Sodom and Gomorrah? Would the streets of Samaria ever have been plowed or the walls of Jerusalem leveled?

In our dispensation the Lord reiterated His basic command to those who bring children into the world when He said, “And again, inasmuch as parents have children in Zion … that teach them not … the sin be upon the heads of the parents. [That is terrifying!]

“For this shall be a law unto the inhabitants of Zion. …

“And they shall also teach their children to pray, and to walk uprightly before the Lord.” (D&C 68:25–26, 28.)

There are two ways of spreading light—to be the candle or to be the mirror that reflects it. Parents can be both. A child will carry into his own life much that he sees in his family home life. If he sees his parents going to the temple frequently, he will begin to plan a temple life. If he is taught to pray for the missionaries, his mind and heart will be pointed toward the missionary program, and he will plan from his earliest youth to save and prepare for a mission call.

Home life, home teaching, parental guidance, father in leadership—these are the panacea for the ailments of the world, a cure for spiritual and emotional diseases, a remedy for problems. Parents should therefore not leave the training of children to school teachers or to the Primary or the Relief Society or the Sunday School or Mutual. The father and the mother must undertake this great responsibility, using the Church programs to assist them. Herein is the success the Lord wants to be achieved in the family home evening which He has established.

God is our Father. He loves us. He spends much energy trying to train us, and we should follow His example and love intensely our own children and rear them in righteousness. The parents who give their children their own way will fail, and so we must plan and organize our home life and bring our children up to be followers of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Primary has a responsibility to help teach the gospel to the children of the Church. In this assignment, Primary supplements the instruction and training which the children receive from their parents. The objective of Primary is to strengthen children in righteous living and assist them to make proper decisions throughout life, beginning in their early years. We must be energetic and devoted in supporting the efforts of parents to build testimonies and faith in their children.

Many years ago, members in one of the countries behind the Iron Curtain said their children were taught in school that “there is no God,” but in response to “How do you keep them faithful?” they replied, “We teach and train them about God in the home.” (Illustration by Howard Post.)