For the past two school years I have served as a School Resource Officer in an urban high school in our city. Many of our students have been raised without one or both parents, by teen parents, and without proper moral and social formation. I am oftentimes approached by people wanting to know about “kids these days.” Without question, parenting is a problem. But what I’ve found is that parenting problems cross all racial and socio-economic divides. And because of the stress, rates of divorce, and the demands of the job, cops need help in this area as well. After all, how many times do we hear about children of officers being arrested?
Let me start off by saying that at a certain point our children are free to make their own decisions. The troubles they encounter may or may not be a product of their upbringing, and parents are certainly not always to blame. Even if you as a parent have made mistakes in the past (and we all have), it is never too late for a new beginning. That fact is the beauty of our new life in Christ…there is no condemnation for the past and all things are made new. Discipleship is about growing and maturing in the faith and all aspects of life.
We can watch Dr. Phil and listen to other parenting guru’s, but we should be most interested in what the Bible says about parenting. I believe we gain great insight from the Scriptures, and as it relates to parenting, specifically from Ephesians 6:1-4, a parallel passage in Colossians 3:20-21, and the Proverbs.
Effective discipline and child formation is important for a much greater reason than maintaining our sanity by having well-behaved children. Research has suggested what is now commonly referred to as the “4/14 Window” – that 85% of people who are saved come to Christ between the ages of 4 and 14. Children are most impressionable at a young age when they are still in our care, and Scripture seems to support this fact. The spiritual well-being and salvation of our children depends in large part upon their formation during this very crucial time period.
Ephesians 6:1-3 instructs children to obey and honor their parents because doing so is “dikaios” – righteousness that is approved of in the sight of God, and for the purpose of having a blessed and long life (Reference Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 5:16; Proverbs 6:20, 23). Then, verse 4 begins the instruction to parents.
In studying this passage, I had to ask why Paul speaks specifically to “fathers.” My thought is that God knew the problem we would have in our day with single-parent homes and the absence of fathers. Even in homes where both parents are present, it seems that fathers have oftentimes taken a back seat leaving the majority of discipline and child rearing to mothers. Fathers have an integral role in parenting, and must be engaged in the overall formation of their children.
From there, I find at least six (6) key insights to effective discipline and child rearing:
1. Effective discipline must be according to Scripture and the pattern demonstrated by God to believers.
Ephesians 6:4 begins by admonishing parents not to provoke, or exasperate, our children to anger by the way we treat them. It seems that we have no problem understanding that God is “our Father in Heaven.” To be the best parents we can be, we must first understand the relationship God the Father has with us. Then, we must model our parenting after the love, grace, forgiveness, and discipline of the Father.
Proverbs 3:11-12 tells us that God disciplines and corrects those He loves. Therefore, I would suggest that we do not truly love our children if we do not practice disciplining them. We cannot neglect the critical place of discipline in parenting, but we also must understand discipline from a biblical standpoint.
2. Effective discipline must be wholistic – focused on the overall well-being and development of the child.
Here we understand the meaning of discipline from a biblical standpoint. We are admonished to bring up our children with “paideia” discipline. Thayer’s definition of this biblical Greek term deals with “the whole training and education of children (“which relates to the cultivation of mind and morals, and employs for this purpose commands and admonitions, reproof and punishment”). Therefore, discipline does not carry merely a negative connotation.
In a previous article, I spoke of the concept of Apprentice Discipleship. The word “disciple” relates to “discipline,” and we must see our children as our first and primary disciples. They are to live as we live, love as we love, and serve God as we serve God. That fact raises the bar for our own living…no more “do as I say, not as I do.”
3. Effective discipline involves the investment of our time.
In dealing with the topic of discipline, corporal punishment must be discussed. It is my position that corporal punishment in an appropriate manner is entirely biblical (Proverbs 13:24; 22:15; 23:13). The issue is not whether we may spank our children, but how we should go about doing so. We must use appropriate methods, objects, and delivery. More than that, we must understand that the purpose of discipline is not punishment, but rather correction. Our goal is to correct inappropriate behavior, communicate the value of good and evil, and teach our children how to live as mature, responsible human beings in a manner that pleases God.
Proper discipline takes time and commitment. Children need and are worth the investment of time, and the process is ongoing. As our disciples, they learn from us consistently. It may be easy to spank a child and send them to their room. Effectiveness is found, however, in explaining the reason for the discipline, expressing love for the child, and following up to reinforce the desired behavior.
4. Effective discipline must include consistency and fairness.
Children need boundaries, and they need to know where the boundaries are. They need rules, but the rules cannot continually change based on circumstance or the mood of the parent. We must be fair and consistent with our children, and especially as it relates to discipline.
We must also strive for fairness and consistency among siblings and between spouses. Spouses should work together and agree upon rules and discipline. Husband and wife should operate as a team…as one. While there are varying circumstances and personalities involved in each situation, we must strive as much as possible to be fair among siblings so as not to create rebellion, animosity, or otherwise provoke our children.
5. Effective discipline must be balanced with intentional instruction in the ways of the Lord.
I attended a Navigate Parenting Event at my local church recently, and the session speaker made the following statement: “Without careful parental guidance (especially related to good decision-making skills), the child will grow up making decisions based only on her or his natural inclinations: pursuing pleasure and avoiding pain.”
As mentioned previously, discipline relates to the overall formation of our children. It must deal not only with the negative, but also with the proactive, positive, intentional development of our children. Ephesians 6:4 says to raise our children in discipline AND instruction of the Lord. We must equip our children with the spiritual maturity, values, and ethics to make appropriate decisions that will be based upon Scripture and a life that seeks to please God. If discipline is correcting our children concerning what NOT TO do, then instruction is building them up with what TO do.
6. The only effective discipline is discipline that is practiced.
Dr. James Dobson is quoted as saying, “Sometimes we are so concerned about giving our children what we never had growing up, that we neglect to give them what we did have growing up.” Proverbs 3:11 and Hebrews 12:5-11 convey the truth that God disciplines those that He loves. If He does not discipline us, then we are not truly His children. We cannot say that we love our children, but then fail to implement discipline.
Further, and in conclusion, Proverbs 19:18 highlights a scriptural truth related to discipline. A careful study of this verse has led me to this translation: “Discipline your child while there is still hope that it will be effective. Do not wish death upon or cause the death of your child by failing to implement discipline.” It seems from the first part of this passage that the concept of the 4/14 Window is accurate. There is a limited period of time within which we can discipline our children and hope for its effectiveness. We would think it absurd for a parent to wish death upon his/her child, but according to this verse, that is exactly what we do when we fail to discipline our children according to established biblical patterns and standards.
It is my prayer that God will strengthen all families, but especially law enforcement families. I pray these insights, and the resources listed below, will encourage you in your efforts to “raise Godly seed.” I always welcome comments and interaction, and would be happy to address specific areas of interest or need in future posts. We are continuing our focused initiative to create spiritually, physically, and financially healthy law enforcement families in 2013. Blessings!
Book by Gary and Anne Marie Ezzo: Growing Kids God’s Way
Fellowship of Fathers (website helping men become the best fathers they can be)
*Picture above is of Covered Law Enforcement founder Jonathan Parker with daughter Olivia in 2008.