Parental Discipline

And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord. – Ephesians 6:4.

He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him promptly. – Proverbs 13:22.

Parenting is surely not an exact science and even those with the very best parenting skills sometimes end up with having rotten children who grow into even worse adults. Ultimately the individual is responsible before God for their actions. However, parents do have major responsibility as seen in Ephesians 6:4 and Proverbs 13:22. Parenting is somewhat of a balancing act between the use of the “rod” (which may or may not be of a physical nature) and the “provoke(ing) your children to wrath.” Certainly all discipline and parenting should be done in love with the goal of the children becoming stable responsible loving servants of God at some point in their lives.

Canadian theorist Dr. David Lykken has looked at the statistics on juvenile crime and concludes, “only a few children with antisocial tendencies were born with such a predisposition.” He also believes from his studies that “most antisocial behaviors in children are caused by poor parenting.”

A case study in how not to raise children was done by Mikal Gilmore the younger brother of Gary Gilmore who murdered two young men in cold blood and was executed in Utah in 1977. Mikal did an extensive search of their family history to try to find where things went wrong. Of four brothers Gary was the only one who was outwardly violent. As a result of the study Mikal found extreme emotional neglect, religious rigidity, and physical abuse, which began with the grandparents of the Gilmore brothers. The parents of the Gilmore brothers had both been rejected by their parents.

The use or non-use of physical discipline does not appear to be necessary for the development of godly character. Certainly discipline (the “rod”) must be applied in some form. I was never physically spanked while I was growing up as a child but my parents did use other reasonable forms of discipline. My own style of discipline with my children has been a combination of reasonable non-abusive physical punishment in extreme circumstances and reasonable non-abusive non-physical punishment in other circumstances.

From the Gilmore, other studies, and my background as a probation and parole officer conducting pre-sentence investigations it is clear that unreasonable, cruel or the complete lack of any discipline will create psychopathic tendencies. Here are some guidelines, which I believe to be helpful:

1. All discipline should be done with love and not while obviously enraged.
2. All discipline should be reasonable in accordance with accepted norms and laws.
3. Discipline that is shocking or unusual does “provoke your children to wrath” and should be avoided.
4. Destroying toys or other items important to a child is very dangerous emotionally and may lead them to destructive behavior in the future.
5. Physical abuse is clearly related by most studies to the children growing up to be physically abusive themselves.
6. A lack of parental attention and love will result in children doing whatever it takes to gain that attention even through misbehavior.

There are always exceptions to whatever rules of child development that may be established. But if you believe something is extreme it probably is and should be avoided. When in doubt take time to pray and ask the Lord what He would do.

(Some guidelines for parental discipline.)

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