Whether you have kids or not, all of us can see that parenting isn’t what it used to be.
From the way children speak to adults, their lack of respect, their fearless mentality, defiance, disappearance of morals—you name it! While the saying is true: “There is nothing new under the sun,” certainly things are getting progressively worse.
Something I would like to point out is that it isn’t merely ‘age’ that dictates this power struggle we see between parents and their kids. Just because someone is young doesn’t mean they don’t discipline their children or that being young automatically means your child is destined for disaster. Likewise, just because someone is “older” and thought to be wiser when they have children doesn’t mean they have all the necessary components to rear a gracious member of society.
All across the board—different ethnic groups, numerous religious backgrounds, varied financial statuses—younger parents and older parents alike, seem to struggle with finding the proper way to discipline their children. One reason this can be so challenging is because all children are unique and therefore respond differently. For the vast majority of us, our views on discipline are largely shaped by our personal upbringing. Most of us either end up with the same tendencies our parents had or we are trying to display the polar opposite.
Here’s just one example: Some parents couldn’t fathom physically punishing their child, while some deem it extremely necessary at times. There are parents who feel as though physical abuse will flip a switch in their child’s psyche and cause them to act violently towards others. Other parents just believe a good old-fashioned spanking will knock out the kinks. Of course you have your extreme cases where a person is too afraid, for whatever reason, to lay a hand on their child while some are way over the top.
Again, the point that must be highlighted is that what works for one child may not work for another; so you really have to find out how your child best responds to different forms of discipline. Moreover, what works best for one of your children may not work for ALL of your children. Some may not have to be physically punished (“popped”, “spanked,” etc) if your facial expressions and tone of voice get the job done in that particular instance. Additionally, there are children who get spankings every day and still don’t modify their behavior (meaning this isn’t the correct form of punishment for them over repeated long terms).
Regardless of what form of punishment you decide on, it goes much deeper than that when we talk about the “why” behind what we do.
An important question I’d like to pose is one you may or may not have ever thought about. It may even sound strange to you, but disregarding our backgrounds, nationalities, and how much money we have in the bank—the question remains for us all: Is it more important to you that your child is obedient or that your child learns to discern between right and wrong?
You may not see the difference on first read, and as a parent—OF COURSE you want your child to be obedient. But I’ll ask again: Is it really better for them to simply listen to what they are told?
Pause and think for a moment.
Is that really what you want? For your child to simply listen?
If you simply want your child to listen to what an adult tells them, then how will they learn to listen to that voice on the inside that tells them something isn’t right?
A kid who is taught to just obey—regardless of how they feel—could become the victim of a family member’s lustful desires and sexual dysfunction. In cases like this, they may know something is wrong but would feel as though they would get in trouble for not “obeying” the adult in the situation. Too extreme for you? Okay, let’s say that they are at school and a teacher tells them to say something they are uncomfortable with (because weird things like this happen) and they comply all because the teacher—a person in authority—told them to.
Wouldn’t you much rather they learn to speak up when something isn’t right? Wouldn’t you rather they question what they are being told if something seems “off” to them?
I wouldn’t be asking these questions if I haven’t witnessed many adults/parents fussing at their children about being obedient, failing to give the child an understanding of WHY they should be complying. When you explain to a child the “why” associated with the behavior they should be (or should not be) displaying, they are more likely to carry out the right behavior. What I see is that most adults have this dominant authoritative approach—where they don’t want to explain to a child the “why” connected to things. They say, “Just do what you’re told!” We don’t respect the child who asks questions and genuinely expresses their confusion; instead we tell them they’re talking back and label them disrespectful.
Hear me: I am not saying there are never cases where a child is asking questions to get on your nerves or to push your buttons or even combat your authority; what I am saying is that you should know (or you need to get to know) your child well enough to when they truly desire to understand something. And when they do, don’t shut them down. Take the time to explain to them and answer their questions. In the end, you will reap the benefits of an obedient child who understands why they are doing what they are doing.
A person can be obedient without understanding the “why” behind it. A child may listen to someone in authority out of fear or respect, but if they can’t grasp WHY it is they are supposed to do something—eventually disobedience will follow. So the next time your child asks for an explanation of something—don’t be so quick to punish them for their curiosity. As a matter of fact, praise them for it! Put yourself in their shoes: Would you want someone always telling you what to do without asking questions? Or without knowing why you were doing it?
We must be conscious of the fact that we are building men and women; they won’t be children for very long. This isn’t supposed to be a dictatorship, it’s building them up so they can grow and become the all-around healthy and stable adults they are supposed to be. Too many times, we crush a child’s nature by constantly telling them or subtly implying that their questions aren’t worthy of a response. Just remember, somebody was patient with you to teach you. And guess what? If they weren’t, you know what that feels like and you should want better for your kids and the children whose lives you have the honor of playing a role in.
I remember when I was 14, I attended a football game at my high school. Of course, the game wasn’t all that exciting to me; it was being with my classmates outside of class that made the experience so enjoyable. I noticed one of the officers on duty kept looking at me with an unpleasant expression on his face, but for the life of me I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong. I kept trying to move to another area, but every time I turned around—there he was…looking at me the same way. I started to feel uneasy knowing his eyes were fixed on me for whatever reason—but I tried to play it off like I didn’t notice what he was doing. However, I couldn’t ignore him when we came from behind and firmly grabbed my right arm, demanding that I step away with him. Some of my classmates were brave enough to speak up and question what he was doing and why, but he barked at them to mind their own business unless they wanted to get in trouble too. He pulled me to the side of the building out of everyone else’s view, and I said with a shaky voice, “What are you doing? Sir, I didn’t do anything! Let go of me!” He gave me a creepy half-smile and released my arm. He said, “I don’t want to hear it! I’ve been watching you all night—” and just then his walkie-talkie went off requesting his immediate presence elsewhere so he disappeared swiftly. I stood there briefly trying to erase the evidence that I had been crying, immensely confused about what had just taken place…or what would have taken place if his walkie-talkie hadn’t gone off.
I don’t want my children to solely be obedient. I have a strong urge to teach them what is right and what is wrong, which places the responsibility back on me as the parent. I want my children to question those in authority when their discernment kicks in and tells them, “This isn’t right.” I want my kids to speak up for themselves if they feel compromised in any way. We are building up the future leaders of this world, and I’ll be damned (literally: liable to or deserving condemnation) if I don’t do my job and teach my kids to have a mind of their own. Yes, it can be beyond frustrating when my soon-to-be two year old and three-year-old question things or defiantly reject my instructions because they would rather continue to color instead of get ready for bed. But they certainly have a mind of their own! My daughter can clearly articulate to me why she doesn’t want to proceed with an activity, and you know what? I encourage that! Not only does that force her to provide a reasonable explanation but it causes her to think about why she feels the way she does. I would rather she tell me why she doesn’t want to do something, because now it affords me a teaching opportunity to let her know why she should do it. It would be remiss of me if I broke that inside of her and made her feel like she can’t express herself. Rather, she is learning that once she states her piece, I’ll say mine (which IS the last word), and she now has an understanding. It’s not about compromising in the sense that you let them question your power, but teaching positive expression is a good thing as well as letting them have a voice…a voice that you will want them to have the day they need it.
My prayer is that I will be wise enough to teach my children and honor them–no matter what age they are. God entrusted me with them, and I would be completely wrong to not seek His guidance in raising them.
Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it. – Proverbs 22:6
Fathers, don’t exasperate your children by coming down hard on them. Take them by the hand and lead them in the way of the Master. – Ephesians 6:4