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Discipline in the 21st Century Home


Lawson Mayo

Papa said, "Now, Billie, don't!"
But Billie said, "I will," and did;
And Papa went to get the rod,
And Mama said,"Don't beat the kid."
So Papa laid aside the rod
SWhile Billie smiled at "poor old Dad,"
And Mama stroked "dear Billie's" head
And called him her poor little lad.
The years have passed and Bill is gone-
Buried in a sinner's grave-
While Mom and Dad still linger on,
So sad they let him misbehave.
The lesson's clear for all to see:
If you would raise a son for God,
Father and Mother must agree
When Billie needs it, use the rod!

- R.H. Burrows

Children need love and affection, yes! But they also need discipline. Without discipline, there is no direction. Without direction, there is no security. Without security, there is no insulation, no protection, no buffer in life. Indeed, discipline is critically important in the life of a child.

Parents are to be partners with God, trainers for heaven, educators for eternity. Together, they are to bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). Together, they are to train their children in the way they should go (Proverbs 22:6). Together, they are to administer correction when correction is required (Proverbs 22:15). Rules must be made. Limits must be established. Boundaries must be set. Guidelines must be formed. Parents must understand this. They must also understand the importance of banding together. To quote a Christian authority, "They must form a wall of unity so strong that no amount of force can break it down," (Webb, Training up a Child).

Never, for a moment, should a child sense even hint of friction between its parents when it comes to the matter of discipline. And never, for a moment, should a parent pamper a child that is being corrected by the other parent. Pampering negates the purpose and power of discipline. God, in His wisdom, has said: "Chasten thy son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare for his crying" (Proverbs 19:18). Leaving a teary-eyed child in his loneliness will bring repentance far quicker than pampering. Believe me when I tell you this. Rules are important, and restrictions are essential in the life of a child. True, some families have too many rules and regulations. But most have too few. Be that as it may, children need guidance. They need parents who will set rules, and strictly enforce the rules they make. Otherwise all is lost!

I don't know why parents are so remiss when it comes to enforcing their rules. Perhaps they're just irresponsible. If this is the case, they need to mature. Or maybe they are afraid of losing their children's love. If so, they should rethink the matter. Author Larry Christensen wrote: "What your child may think of you in the immediate context of discipline is relatively unimportant. What your child will think of you twenty years from now is to be taken more seriously." I agree. It's not how a child may feel at the time of correction that counts! It's the long-term results that are important. The bottom line is this: love demands discipline, and children must learn to obey. For proof, read: Proverbs 22:15; 29:15; 13:24; 23:13,14; 20:30; 19:18; 22:6, in that order, adding Ephesians 6:1-4 and Colossians 3:21.

Children will be children. They will try almost anything to escape the rules. Parents must be parents. They must enforce the rules they make. They must not nag. They must not preach. They must not argue. They must not warn. They must simply enforce. The result of not doing so is just too costly. It's child-spoiling, character-weakening, and soul-threatening.

Rules must be specific; they must be reasonable; they must be enforceable. The consequence for disobedience, must also be specific and reasonable and enforceable. Right up front, a child should know the type of action that will be taken if the rule is broken. For example: if the rule states that homework must be completed before watching TV, and the consequence for disobedience is no TV on week nights for a certain period of time, the consequence must be firmly enforced if the rule is broken. That's easy enough to understand, isn't it? Why then do parents fail to follow through? Why do we fail to enforce the consequence? Why do we "spare the rod" and spoil the child?

Wherein does the problem lie? Could it be that some of our rules carry an unreasonable consequence? Maybe. At least this seemed to be the case in our child-rearing days. For example, when our children were too noisy, one of us would say: "If you don't get quiet, you can't play outside today." Was that reasonable? Certainly not! If the kids were making too much noise in the house, they needed to be outside! Who was punished most if they didn't mend their ways? We were! Wouldn't it have been more reasonable to have said: "If you don't stop making so much noise, you have to play outdoors"?

To cite another example, we once knew a mother who would make her little girl eat her unfinished dinner for breakfast the next day. You guessed it, next morning there was another battle to fight. Who wants cold spinach for breakfast? Certainly not a child! To make matters worse, if the child didn't eat the leftovers for breakfast, they were served for lunch. Was this a reasonable consequence for disobeying a dinner rule? I think not. It would have been much better if the child had been denied dessert at dinnertime, and a new start made next morning.

Another illustration could be parents who demand high levels of achievement with a nearly impossible consequence for not doing so. Say, for example, that a child must make all "A's", or be grounded for two months. The child may well and truly be capable of making all "A's", but what does the consequence entail if he doesn't? No school for two months? No going to worship for two months? No visit to Grandmum's on her birthday? Another question: who will stay home with the child for those two months? Chances are, it will be Mum! Wouldn't it be more appropriate to say, "Bring up your grades, or after-school privileges will be denied until you do?" See where I'm going with this point? Parents must be firm, but fair. Fair to their children, and fair to themselves.

And, parents, while we're talking about fairness, when a child misbehaves make sure the punishment fits the crime. How fair is it to take money from a child's bank because he doesn't eat all of his veggies? Wouldn't it be more reasonable to take away the bedtime snack? How fair is it to take away TV privileges for not making his bed? Wouldn't it be better to have him make all of the beds in the house for two or three days? How fair is it to take away a child's bike for some act of rudeness? Wouldn't it be wiser to send him to his room until he makes an apology? The heart of a child is quite fragile; use wisdom. Be firm, but fair. And, be consistent. Successful parenting requires consistency. Consistency in training. Consistency in example. Consistency in correction. Without consistency on the part of the parent, the child will feel defiant and confused.

Question: what is discipline anyway? Would you define it as punishment? Correction? Reprimanding? It could be any or all of these. In essence, however, discipline has a much broader meaning. It also means instructing, leading, guiding, discipling, mentoring. Discipline is about influence. It's about support. It's about encouragement. Discipling within the family unit takes place whether or not we are conscious of it. We make our children what they are. Mentoring is influencing one's children to become what we want them to be; yea, what God wants them to be. It's modeling, molding, leading, directing, guiding.

Discipline could mean to subdue, yes, but it also means to condition. In the parent/child relationship, it means to condition the souls of our children for life eternal, as well as conditioning their lives for usefulness on earth. Soul-conditioning! What a challenge! Every time a child is born, a soul will live forever. Where the souls of our children spend eternity may very well depend on how we discipline them while we hold them in the palm of our hand! That's why we need rules: spiritual rules as well as physical. In almost very aspect of life, a person is going to encounter rules. Schools have rules. Jobs have rules. Driving has rules. Sports have rules. The military has rules. And, parents, God has rules, too. Rules for you to follow as you bring up your children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Rules for your children to obey as you shape their lives. As in every rule-oriented situation, God's rules must be obeyed if there is to be any honour. Obedience begets honour. Disobedience, however, begets a consequence. This is a fact that cannot be denied; neither can it be ignored.

The 21st century home: what will it be like? Will discipline become the exception rather than the rule? Will Father's role as head of the home lessen? Will Mother grow more lax? I don't know! I'm not certain! I strongly feel, however, that the 21st century is going to present many spiritual challenges for those of us who try to follow God's plan for the home. I also strongly feel that discipline in the home is our only hope for survival. Good parents will provide "switching facilities" when they find their child on the wrong track! I know…switching is taboo in the world today. Some countries (including Australia) actually have protection laws that prevent a parent from spanking a child. But, let me tell you, Parents, God's way works! My heaven-inspired Book tells me that "Folly is bound in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him" (Proverbs 22:15 NRSV).

Look around us! What has happened to Mum, Dad, and the Kids? Where is the unity? Where is the honour? The respect? The love? What has happened to our moral standards? Where is our spiritual strength? Where is the strict adherence to God's Law? Has the home grown too lax? Has the church become too neglectful? There was a time when Christian parents were known as strict disciplinarians in the home. Not so anymore. There was a time when church leaders were known as strict disciplinarians within the brotherhood. Rarely, anymore. Now, if the church tries to discipline a wayward brother, his family is the first to defend him. And, should the brother be disciplined anyway; his family seems to think they are exempt from honouring the disciplinary action. I ask you, brethren, is this in keeping with God's will? We say, "Back to the Bible," and ignore it when we get there. We make excuses for not complying with its standards. For example, not too far from here, just over on the mainland, there's a young man who needs to be disciplined. We ask, "Why haven't you withdrawn from him; why haven't you disciplined him?" Some say, "We think it's better to treat him like a brother than an enemy." Others say, "Well…he's trying to do better; he tells us he's trying." Trying! This has been his plea (and the excuse for not administering discipline) for ten years. Ten years! I tell you true, if disciplinary action is not taken by the church, this young man will die in his sins. How sad, that we can be so unconcerned about his soul-and ours!

How do we stand in the eyes of God when we neglect God's disciplinary plan? God tells us to discipline those who don't align themselves with His Word (II Thessalonians 3:6). The church needs to reclaim its place in God's great scheme of things. And so should families!

Fathers need to reclaim their place as head of the family. Like Abraham of old, they should "command" their children and their children's children to keep the ways of the Lord (Genesis 18:19). Mothers need, once again, to become the heart of the home. Like Hannah of old, they should dedicate their children to the Lord before they are born; they should willingly "lend" them to the Lord all the days of their lives (I Samuel 1:27,28). Children need to grow as Jesus grew: in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man (Luke 2:52). They need to learn to obey their parents in the Lord, for this is right (Ephesians 6:1).

"Back to the Bible" should be our motto in the home as well as in the church. "We will succeed" should be the parent's creed. Hugo McCord said, "It matters not if this is the [21st] century, and it matters not what psychologists say, it remains true that "a child left to himself causes shame to his parents" (Proverbs 29:15). Indulgent parents (like the mother in our poem) who "love" their children too much to discipline them, are not showing love. Read Proverbs 13:24: "He that spares the rod, hates his son, but he that loves him chastens him betimes." Parents who are afraid to put their foot down usually raise children who step on their toes. Let us hope that we don't stand before God's throne someday all battered and bruised. The wise parent will correct his child, and in doing so, he will save himself from much grief both here and in eternity. Most homes can be improved. Yours. Mine. Ours. As Dale Larsen put it:

The environment of a good home - especially the Christian home - is that of rest, peace, love, patience, understanding, attachment, and joy. Certainly with a setting such as this, it is impossible for a man, a woman or a young person not to develop and grow…There is no organization or institution upon earth so favorably equipped as the home to provide one with security, comfort and rest in a turbulent pressure-filled world (The Christian Home).

I do not say that we can compare our earthly home to heaven, but, as someone once said, "It is a prelude to heaven." In the home, where discipline is practiced, there is a hint of heaven. There is order. There is love. There is joy. There is peace.

We live in the 21st century! But this gratifying fact doesn't change God's Word regarding God's plan for discipline in the home. Neither does it change it in the church. Corrective discipline is vital in both. Preventative discipline, however, is better. I would say that teaching by example is one of the most effective preventative steps that a parent can take. It is, however, the most difficult disciplinary technique to master. It is hard because we must shape up our own lives before we can be a proper example to others. "Do as I say, not as I do" has never, nor will it ever, produce righteous living in anyone. "Follow me as I follow Christ" on the other hand, is the example that comes from the apostle Paul (I Corinthians 11:1).

Furthermore, parents must know more than what constitutes a God-pleasing behaviour: they must know how to communicate a God-pleasing behaviour to their children. A parent's life teaches a greater lesson than his words. Let us not forget this. Parents, who demonstrate a God-pleasing behaviour, need to use the "rod" less often than parents who don't.

When the rod is needed, however, use it without guilt. It's a God-appointed correction tool that works. We have proof of this in our own family. As some of you know, our oldest daughter's husband worked as a boot-maker for several years, and during this time, he decided that those leather boot soles would make great "soul savers," whereupon he took one home to use as an aid in saving the souls of his children. Once, while visiting them, Maxine said, "I'm not sure I like the idea of spanking with a leather shoe sole." Want to know who came to the defense of the "soul-saver"? Not our son-in-law. Not our daughter. No! It was one of our grandsons. He said, "Why not? Dad used it on me once, and it worked!" Children appreciate discipline! They want discipline! The "rod" works! Even so, I advocate using it as a last resort. Align your life with God's Word, and hopefully your children will follow suit. If not, correction is necessary.

Teaching is also essential. The entire Old Testament testifies to this truth. But the demand on a mother's time (or a dad's) is enormous. Lessons must be repeated over and over again. Not only that, but the lessons must be repeated to the younger children as the older children reach a higher level of understanding. If not, the younger children will miss many valuable lessons.

Maybe this is the reason that many younger children appear spoiled while the older ones are well behaved. As parents grow tired, they grow lax. Teaching each child, in his turn, is an energy-sapping task. But it must be done if we want to succeed in our soul-saving mission in life. Instruction, alone, isn't enough, however. Teaching must be coupled with example. Parents must be "doers" as well as "teachers" of the Word (James 1:22). Without example, our teaching becomes vain. As one writer put it:

It's easy to overlook our own failings and bad habits while nagging our children about theirs. Parents may be late to their own appointments without a second thought, but they have a fit when their children are late to dinner or school. Adults may leave projects or clothes strewn around the house while insisting that their children put away one toy before getting out the next. Some mothers and fathers have what can only be called temper tantrums but don't allow their children to show anger (Bush, Mastering Motherhood).

Mastering parenthood isn't easy, but it can be done. It takes a combination of word and deed if we would succeed. One without the other falls short. To teach correct living, without living correctly, constitutes hypocrisy and may cause those watching to rebel. This is the point Paul was making when he told parents not to "provoke" their children, but to bring them up (set a proper example) in the Lord (Ephesians 6:4).

It seems fashionable in our age to think that all children will rebel against their parents to some degree, for no other reason than "they must do so" in order to mature into complete adults. Nonsense! Blind thinking! I tell you, parents, this is not so! Children rebel because of hypocrisy in the home. True, as children grow toward independence, their halos often get a bit tight, and if the halos aren't adjusted, rebellion might result. Halo adjusters-that's what parents are. Discipline-that's the adjustment tool we're to use. Surely God does not decree that young people must incur His wrath by rebelling against their parents, in order to "grow up!"

If a child is already out of control, it may be difficult to discipline him. It's much easier to practice preventative discipline when the child is young, or nip it in the bud, than to try to correct a bad situation after it has been left unattended too long. If true rebellion has already set in, strict correction is in order, and should be applied, without hesitation and without reservation. It is God's plan for parents to succeed in saving the souls of their children.

And what about "sowing wild oats"? Is this also a part of growing up as some would have us believe? Definitely not! Such thinking is nothing more than a cover up for poor parenting! Parents who allow their children to sow a few wild oats will, most likely, live to see them reap a wild, wild harvest. Such permissiveness, on the part of the parents, is soul-destroying to the child! To think that teenage sin is normal-to excuse it as temporary rebellion or wild oat sowing-is to play into the hands of Satan.

It is God's plan that children be nurtured by instruction and example in such a way that they can make the transition from dependence to independence without sin and rebellion. Let us recognise this infallible truth! We control the environment! We set the rules! We administer the discipline! We make our children what they are. Discipline in the 21st century home is a must! Without it, all will be lost!

Happy are the parents who rule well, and those who teach wisely. They will take their children where God would have them go, and bring them back safely to Him again.


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