Enforcing Parental Discipline

Our delinquent age needs to regain its sense of the urgency of enforcing parental discipline. To address this concern, let us look at two fathers mentioned in the Bible and the harvest they reaped.

We meet the first father, Eli, in 1 Samuel 2. He appears to have been a weak, easygoing father. Although he did verbally protest against the dishonest and immoral conduct of his sons, he took no further measures nor even threatened to remove them from office. With Eli, this had probably become a lifelong pattern. When those sons were yet boys, he had probably protested many of their actions. "Boys, that is wrong; you should know better! But evidently he seldom insisted on their obedience. Words without action prove very ineffective.

Eli did not sense the urgency of enforcing parental discipline. Do we? Do we side with our children against the school? Against the church? If so, we are doing them a tragic disservice. Furthermore, we are reflecting the permissive attitude of Eli and bringing upon ourselves a bitter harvest.

One may console himself in the fact that he or she, as a parent, is not at all wicked. But to simply be a weak parent can very definitely contribute to the permanent wickedness of one’s children and possibly make one a partaker of their sins.

King David is another father from whom we should learn. Toward at least one of his sons, he was entirely too permissive. Although David was an otherwise good man, a man after God’s own heart, he clearly spoiled this son, Adonijah. Consequently, there were many heartaches, and finally the premature cutting off of a life that otherwise might have been a glory to God.

The truth of Proverbs 29: 15 has been verified repeatedly. "The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame" (and also his father). Here, then, are two fathers who in other respects lived commendable lives, but they did not feel the burden of the urgency of enforcing parental discipline. And out of that neglect grew a long train of tragic consequences.

In any sizable group of parents, there will likely be some inclined to be overly harsh, and still more inclined to overly permissive. Both extremes militate against the effectiveness of disciplinary measures.

If you are inclined to be a dictatorial parent, you need to be reminded that anger and harshness may frighten, but they will not persuade the child that you are right. Moreover, if you administer discipline in anger, you will lose the respect of your child. Although our children should respect us, it should not be necessary to make them literally fear us. Such fear tends to put an end to the openness that should exist between children and their parents. "Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged." Our children ought to be afraid of the rod but not afraid of us.

While recognizing the danger of being overly harsh, the burden of this message is the danger of being overly permissive. This was the mistake of Eli. This was also the mistake of David. And the climate of our day, with its emphasis upon the need to allow children to express themselves and develop along lines of their own choosing, is extremely unfavorable for the exercise of firm parental discipline.

Paternal love is by nature soft. Unless it is tempered with divine love, it tends to become permissive and sentimental. This overly tolerant love can blind a parent to the faults of his children. It can deceive a mother into believing that everyone but her Johnny is out of step.

Parental permissiveness appears in many shapes and forms. In one family, whenever the children disobeyed, the mother would go into a closet and pray. She tried to substitute prayer for firmer measures, and, needless to say, it did not work.

Many a child has been told, "If you do that again, I’ll punish you." What happens when the child does do it again? Too often there are simply additional verbal threats. Words become a substitute for the rod. When the overly permissive parent finally does punish, it is likely to be too mild to accomplish the end that it should. Normally, a child need not be punished often if he is punished severely enough. The hot stove serves to illustrate this point. It teaches the child to mind with but a few applications.

Many an overly permissive parent has said, "I don’t want my children to go through what I went through." Consequently attempts are made to shield his children from all forms of hardship. What a shame! Such children remain strangers to the virtue of personal sacrifice and hard, honest toil.

Overly permissive parents, in a mistaken effort to maintain the goodwill of their children, often spend a great deal of money on them. Toys and gifts are showered upon them. Upon arriving at his sixteenth birthday, the son is given a car. He is allowed to pocket all his wages and spend them however he pleases.

Are you an overly permissive parent? Do you find yourself continually allowing your child to have his way, to get whatever he wants, to do wrong and get by with it? If so, mark it down that you and that child are headed for trouble.

No matter how good your family tree may appear to be, all your children came into the world with a wayward nature and will go wrong unless you, by means of proper discipline, seek to alter that downward course.

Today much is said about the need to understand our children and reason with them and explain the motives behind our discipline. In childhood and adolescence there is a place for this approach, but a child’s will ought to be broken long before he reaches that stage. Long before you can reason with your child, you must find ways of dealing with his self-will. A baby needs to learn the meaning of "no" long before the mother can discuss that meaning with him.

The enforcing of parental discipline requires parental cooperation. When a child receives a punishment from one parent and pity from the other, the corrective effect is destroyed. Furthermore, this affords the child an opportunity to form the habit of pitting one parent against the other. This contributes to the further deterioration of the unity of the home.

Success in the enforcement of parental discipline depends also on the consistency of the discipline. Do not allow tomorrow what you forbid today, and do not allow today what you forbid tomorrow. To do so creates confusion in the child’s mind. It is only fair that he knows where the parental bounds exist. A good disciplinarian is definite, firm, and consistent.

The urgency of enforcing parental control requires that parents stay close to their children in all their activities. It is proper for growing adolescents to assume more and more responsibilities and to make more and more personal decisions. But in all this, parents should be close observers. Your daughter may select an article of clothing that is inappropriate for a Christian. Your son may come home with a haircut that reflects a step toward the latest in hair fads. Those are points at which you as a parent ought to lovingly, yet firmly, assert your God-delegated parental authority. Wise parents supervise the decisions of their growing children and thus prevent them from introducing fads that would tempt others and mar the witness of the church.

Leisure-time activities also call for close parental supervision. As parents, you may rejoice when you see your son or daughter reading a book. You may feel that now he is out of mischief; he is doing something profitable. Your rejoicing may be well grounded, but not necessarily so. Reading, although normally profitable, can degenerate into a form of escapism. It can, for example, become an escape from needful work. Furthermore, what about the content of that book your child is reading? Is it character building’? Is it soul enriching? Or is it written, as so much material is today, simply to feed an unhealthy fantasy? That kind of reading has no permanent value but rather will dissipate the benefits of other disciplines in the life of the child. So you had better keep close supervision over your child’s reading.

Are we training children to save and to give as they ought? If your son is earning and is permitted to keep any portion of what he earns, it becomes your responsibility to see that he gives to the Lord’s work a portion of that which becomes his. Likewise, if your daughter is permitted to spend money of her own for personal items, train her to give also a portion in the Sunday morning offering. How else will they learn stewardship?

We ought to also teach our children that they have a definite responsibility to help along in the financial struggles of the family. For grown children, I Timothy 5:8 has a special message. "But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel." Too often we apply this only to the breadwinner in relation to his wife and dependent children. But notice, it says, "if any". The context indicates that if a widow has grown children and grandchildren, they have an obligation to help her financially. The principle embedded in this passage is that the close of kin to one having financial struggles are under special obligation to help. This we need to instill in our children.

A tragedy occurred sometime ago in the writer’s home community. A young boy, while riding his motor scooter, was instantly killed. The mother acknowledged that his death was related to parental neglect. The preservation of even your child’s physical life makes the enforcing of parental discipline an urgent matter. But still more important is the spiritual well-being of your child. Proverbs 23:14 indicates that parental discipline is a means of delivering a child’s soul from hell. More than anything else, this ought to put into our discipline the note of urgency. This is written in the hope that you will not need to look upon the grave of a child that went wrong because you restrained him not, because you displeased him not at any time. Act now and save yourself that bitter regret.

Abridged from The Urgency of’Enforcing Parental Discipline, Rod and Staff Publications.