Thorns and snares are in the way of the crooked;
whoever guards his soul will keep far from them.
Train up a child in the way he should go;
even when he is old he will not depart from it. Proverbs 22:5-6
There is a tendency to read vs. 6 as a call to ensure that a child, student, grandchild, niece, nephew, etc. has a meaningful life—where meaningful is a mixture of financial independence in work that fits their personality and temperament—all the while being a person of good character and morals.
On the surface this seems good. Who doesn’t want a life of fulfillment and moral integrity for a child with whom they have some significant relationship (such as those mentioned above)? And after all, is it not also a good thing to recognize and nurture their uniqueness and individuality?
I argue that while both of these things are good, only one of them, according to Proverbs 22:6 is to have prominence. That is to say, one of these is more important than the other. It is far more important that they have great character (i.e. being like and following Jesus) than that, say, they get into a good college. What they become on the inside is vastly more important than what they become on the outside.
We prioritize this inward growth and transformation, by ‘training them up’ or, in other words, placing them on a path that leads to life with God now and forever. Such a path leads them away from the snares and thorns that line the path to destruction and teaches them to guard their own soul as they strike out on their own later in life.