This article first appeared at Wesleyan Kids on November 21, 2013
I’m concerned about a disturbing trend I’m seeing happening more and more: parents are not disciplining their children (both young and old) when they are doing behavior that they themselves did when they were young. This is more than just a pastor’s complaint about a lack of discipline in the home. It’s a projection of where that lack of discipline leads us as a society.
The logic seem to go something like this:
Middle school Johnny has learned some pretty colorful language in his 11 years of existence. He seemingly has learned that he can say those particularly offensive words and his parents will not correct him. After all, they said cuss words when they were in middle school and high school (and they even say them as adults from time to time). The parents feel like a hypocrite if they were to tell their son not to use such language.
“Surely this is just stuff kids have to go through and learn on their own, right?”
Or maybe the logic goes something like this:
“I drank when I was in high school, so I can’t tell my teenager that they can’t drink can I? I mean, wouldn’t that be two-faced? I might as well let them do it and I’ll supervise to make sure no one gets hurt.”
Or maybe like this:
“Teens are bound to have sex, I mean look at the statistics. I’m going to help my daughter take precautions so she doesn’t get pregnant.”
At church it sometimes looks like this:
“I don’t want to go to church. It’s boring.”
“Yeah, I understand. I was bored in church, too, and I didn’t want to go. Okay, you don’t have to go.”
Here’s why I’m worried…
If parents, who are the first line of defense in our culture of what is right and wrong… if our parents are abdicating their responsibility to pass on some moral values in the form of wisdom and experience (in order to save our young people from making the same mistakes) then who is going to do that?
Sure, there are things parents need to let their children (both young and old) learn on their own. Things like: staying up too late at night and suffering the consequences of still having to get to school on time or not being responsible to bring something to school like a hat, gloves or a coat when it’s cold outside. Most of the time, with small things, natural consequences are great teachers.
However, there are some big things like sex, adult beverages, and their spiritual life that students should be greatly guided by adults in order to avoid lifelong consequences. Regardless of what you as a parent did when you were a teenager or a child, you still had parents (hopefully) that informed you that you were doing something wrong. Hopefully you had at least one adult in your life that loved you enough to call out on your poor choices and eventual disastrous behavior.
My worry is that parents are not doing what they are supposed to be doing and being the adult in their child’s life. Your kids do not need a best friend. They need a parent. They need someone who is going to nag them, hound them, wait up for them when they break curfew and chew them out, and take away the keys to the car when they mess up.
I have a particularly interesting vantage point
I’ve been a children and youth pastor for over ten years now in the same community. I’ve watched children grow up from when they were in 3rd grade through graduation. I’ve witnessed countless students come in and through the ministries of our church in our community. I have also witnessed particularly gruesome behavior from students and I’ve always wondered:
“Where do they learn these behaviors that they think are normal?”
Almost 7 years ago, my wife and I had our first child. And as both her and our second (both girls) grow up and develop over time, I witness behavior in them that, if left unchecked and unchallenged, would manifest itself just like the students I would interact with in middle school and high school. I began to see that for some of these older teenagers, their parents, or other significant adults in their lives, were not disciplining or challenging behaviors in their progeny when they were young. What I and our youth leaders were experiencing in youth group was the direct result of unchecked and unchallenged behavior that grew into something nasty.
One time, my oldest daughter, upon hearing some correction and adjustment from her Mom, muttered something disrespectful under her breath. To me it was plain as day and as loud as a jet engine. My daughter was sowing the seeds of disrespect to someone in authority. On the outside she obeyed, but on the inside she did not. Her heart was hardening right in front of me. I’ve seen what that looks like unchecked and unchallenged after 10 years or so. I looked right at my daughter and I said:
“Young lady, you do not talk to your Mom like that. I heard what you said under your breath. We do not disrespect those in authority over us on the inside and obey on the outside. That produces a kind of person that has a hard and nasty heart.”
Challenging the small, seemingly insignificant behaviors now (when they are small), and being consistent with those simple corrections, will produce, with the grace of God through faith, a life that is shaped by loving parents.
I understand it is not popular to discipline your kids. I know it is exhausting to correct your kids. I understand how often (like 30 times a day) you say the same things over and over again and you feel like you want to give up. I get it. I really do. However, if you do not, what kind of human being, that you are responsible for, will your child be when their behavior is left unchecked?
Surely I’m not questioning whether or not you love your child. But could I ask a simple question for you to think about without you getting mad at me?