What is a Child?

What is a child? Is a child a small adult, an angelic treasure from heaven, the property of the parents, someone who hasn’t reached puberty, a little monster, or a tender plant requiring gentle, loving care?

Popular definitions.

According to well-known American author and illustrator Dr. Seuss, children are simply people. “A person’s a person, no matter how small.” He also likens adults to children. “Adults are just outdated children.”

UNICEF defines a child as someone under 18 years of age who has the right to be heard, the right to protection, and the right to dream. Concerning childhood, UNICEF says, “It is a precious time in which children should live free from fear, safe from violence and protected from abuse and exploitation.”

Duhaime’s Law Dictionary states that a child is “A minor; an individual who is not yet an adult or has not reached the age of majority.”

Etymologically, the term child comes from the Latin infans, which means “the one who does not speak.” During the Roman Empire era, this term was designated from birth to 7 years of age.

Aristotle, the Greek philosopher and scientist, viewed children as pathologically weak, physically disproportionate, incapable of happiness, and irrational. According to Aristotle, it’s only through a “painful” process that children learn to conduct themselves according to the highest good.

Hindus believe the child is a vital connection between human generations, one that can secure continuity, reproduction, and purity if so desired.

And in traditional Sub Sahara African culture, a child is a treasured member of the community, yet under control and requires the help of adults.

I could cite many more opinions. The world at large has no fixed meaning or definition for a child.

Christian definition.

Christians view children as physical, moral, spiritual, cognitive, emotional, and social beings created in the image and likeness of God (Psalm 139:13-16). Every child is precious and has a God-given value, identity and purpose (Jeremiah 1:5a). Children can know, hear, understand, love, worship, and serve God.

Every child is precious and has a God-given value, identity and purpose. Share on X

We should also include a child’s culture and context in a Christian definition. God doesn’t want a child to be vulnerable or exist in isolation, so He gifts them to a mother and father, i.e. places them in families. Every family is part of a community. Children’s personal contact and interaction with their families and communities influence the development of their identities, beliefs, morals, customs, and attitudes.

Biblical implications.

Because children come from God, they belong to God (Deuteronomy 5:29, Psalm 100:3).

Since God makes children, they are part of His creative plan (Genesis 1:28).

Because children are part of God’s creative plan, they exist for His pleasure (Psalm 139:13-14, Revelation 4:11).

Since God highly values children, they have importance and worth (Psalm 139:15-16, Mark 10:14-15).

Because children are a blessing from God, we should never see them as an inconvenience (Psalm 127:3-5, Matthew 18:10).

Since God gave children a purpose, they should bring honour and glory to Him (Matthew 21:16, Romans 6:13, 3 John 1:4).

Because children are a gift from God, they need to learn to make their lives a gift to others (Isaiah 54:13, Matthew 7:12).

Since children are spiritual beings, we must give them every opportunity to know and grow in Christ (Deuteronomy 6:6-7, Matthew 19:14).

Because God places children in families, they must obey and honour their parents (Proverbs 1:8-9, Ephesians 6:1-2).

Since children are relational beings, we must embrace and involve them in the community of faith (Psalm 145:4).

And, since children are vulnerable, we must provide safety and protection for them (Numbers 32:17).

Discussion questions.

How do we navigate parenting, educating, and faith formation with so many different and sometimes conflicting ideas about children? Should childhood be parent-directed, child-directed, or a combination of both? How much control can a child handle? Are children accountable for their sins and misdemeanours? Do children have rights and responsibilities? How should we discipline children? What is God’s purpose for children?

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