"A man's home is his castle" we used to say. Every man was lord of his own manor. A person knew just who was allowed into his home, what each guest brought with him, and how he occupied himself during his visit. The lord of the manor, or head of the household could keep track of every detail, so as to be sure to keep things just the way we wanted them to be. Times have changed. Nowadays, it's not at all clear just who is the lord of the manor.
Decades ago, the home was a comfortable, well-insulated greenhouse in which parents could raise their children under conditions of their choice. Like any good crop grower, parents carefully controlled each aspect of their individual greenhouse and ensured that conditions were optimal for the crop they wished to raise. Cultivated with just the right combination of sunshine, irrigation, soil and fertilizer, children blossomed and flowered under the caring supervision of devoted parents. Fathers and mothers molded their children's character, implanting positive traits and habits in each one, according to his individual makeup. A father or mother was confident that the main influence came from the parents and not from some outside factor. The child was not exposed to the outside world, and certainly not to its more negative aspects. The parents decided who would instruct their children, hand-picking only those whose sterling character qualified them to serve as role models for their offspring. Not everyone was acceptable as a candidate to mold young, impressionable souls and to impart to them wisdom for life. The home was a fortress; within its walls, no matter how humble, the child was safe from the hostile winds which blew without.
Do we still raise our children within in the safety of storm-proof homes? Or have we adopted other methods that permit the outside would to penetrate our homes and expose our children? In our times, it is safe to assume that the term greenhouse applies to tomatoes, tropical flowers, and strawberries. A tour of modern homes would not be likely to come upon any protective mechanisms designed to protect the "flowers" we are trying to raise from the winds that blow no good without.
From infancy, today's child already sits, entranced, before the screen that displays constantly moving objects, which he may or may not be able to identify, but follows with interest anyway. For the busy or bored mother, television seems to be an ideal babysitter, and the price is right, too. The toddler is old enough to grasp the meaning of what he sees on the screen. He, too, is entranced by what he sees, and may sit clapping his hands enthusiastically to the sight of every figure which appears on the screen. For some odd reason, when the face on the screen belongs to someone we would not consider inviting into our home, even for a casual visit, everything and anything is acceptable. Even should it be someone of such dubious character that we would refuse to open the door to his knock, we unthinkingly open the doors to our child's mind, and to his heart, without hesitation. Were we to see this individual coming toward us on the street, we might well choose to cross the road, in order to avoid meeting up with him; but here we are, giving this same unwelcome character access to our homes, and, even worse, to the minds and hearts of our children.
The unprecedented advances in communication bring the entire world to our doorstep. We lift up a phone, and dial to any spot on the globe. We turn on the computer, and communicate with business associates, friends and relatives half a world away. We consider this progress and, indeed, many new opportunities are now available to us as a result of the revolutionary changes wrought by the computer.
Tragically, together with the good, positive influences, we are flooded with violence, inanities, and poisonous films, songs, and other material which no decent parent would dream of buying in a bookstore and bringing home to his children. Today, there is no need to go out and purchase filth. It is right there, under our fingertips, only a "click" away. We are inundated by it, and many parents find they can only stand and watch their children drown in the muddy floodwaters that gush into their homes with a force they cannot stem. If we are looking to pinpoint of THE problem of our generation, we need look no further. This is it.
If we are to do justice to our children, we must also admit that the problem is not theirs, it is ours. It is we who do not know how to meet the challenge of the computer age, with all its advances and curses. The influence on ourselves and on our children appears to be far too powerful. It seems that there is no way to avoid the negative influence of the environment in which we find ourselves and our children. The parent may easily feel at an utter loss to find a way to rectify the situation. At other times, the parent could avoid contamination if only he were willing to pay the price, but it is such a relief to have peace and quiet while the child is fascinated by the flickers on the screen that it is more convenient for him to forget about the long-term detriments to which he is exposing his child.
When he is less pressured, the same parent will readily agree that it is irresponsible on his part to expose his child to any danger, whether physical of spiritual. Likewise, he will assert that it is his responsibility as a parent to establish safeguards which will serve to keep the child a safe distance from any source of danger. Not only should the child not be allowed to light matches, but he also should be prevented from even getting a hold of them. It is not enough to see that the child not open a bottle of sulphuric acid; we must also take positive steps to ensure that the child cannot even lay his hands on the bottle in the first place.
The philosopher may theorize that it is a good idea to "immunize" the child against dangers through controlled exposure to them, much like the concept of vaccinations against smallpox, which introduce a similar, less harmful disease organism to the body so that it will build up resistance. This principle has proven itself valid in the realm of physical medicine, but not with regard to spiritual "infections." Judaism teaches us to "vaccinate" our children by nurturing their inner strength of character, so they will have a natural resistance and inner stability which outside influences cannot overturn. A child with a firm grounding in the principles which guide his parents will not be easily enticed to graze in alien pastures. The successful parent equips his child with the strength and the courage to turn away when he is confronted by enticements which conflict with the values of Torah. Even so, the wise parent will make every possible effort to avoid involving his child in a direct confrontation with influences opposed to his ethical principles.
A parent with even a minimal degree of responsibility would never consider allowing his child to play on a rooftop with no safety rails. Even if the child claims that he will not approach the edge of the roof, no responsible adult will agree to leave him alone in such a setting. Should the child suddenly chase after a wayward ball, or misjudge the distance between him and the edge of the roof, the child would expose himself to danger.
We should regard spiritual dangers with no less caution. A parent who exposes his child to spiritual dangers, saying, "He knows how to take care of himself," is grossly negligent of the responsibility of a father or mother to his child. "It won't happen to me," he tells himself; but if he is negligent, only a miracle will save him and his children to succumbing to the powerful forces of degenerate materialism and hedonism which surround us today.