Overview of Child Training
“The emotional indulgence
of parents today is depriving children the opportunity to learn through
adversity. Most adolescents from affluent families have all the useful
accessories—cell phones, credit cards, computers, and cars—but they have few of
the responsibilities that build character…Indulged children become susceptible
to self-absorption, depression, anxiety, and lack of self control.”
The foundational goal of parenting is to raise children to be mature. The problem in modern America is that most parents assume that maturity is a byproduct of getting older. Consequently, few make significant efforts to develop it within their children. In fact, most would have difficulty even defining maturity, and, therefore, are unable to effectively cultivate it. Parents who do want to help their kids become mature often confuse maturity with “independence” and grant their immature children autonomy early in life. They do not realize that an immature person granted independence does not develop the self-restraint of maturity, but regresses deeper into the self-indulgence of immaturity. They may develop survival skills and increase in sophistication, but they will not grow in maturity. Parents must, therefore, understand maturity and make a conscious effort to train their children in its attributes. Maturity, broken down to its most basic elements, can be characterized by three primary character traits: self-control, wisdom, and responsibility.[ii]
A self-controlled person has all normal human passions, but is not ruled by them. A self-controlled child is one who is able to obey Mommy the first time when called. It is a self-controlled child who is able to not touch something that belongs to others or not sneak candy when Daddy’s back is turned. Such a child may be angered when teased, but will have the self-restraint to not respond with violence. The bottom line is that a child with self-control has the ability to say “no” to himself and “yes” to what is right. The child who is allowed to grow up without self-restraint may reach adulthood, but will remain a big “kid”—absorbed with himself, pleasure, fun, and entertainment, sometimes at the expense of those around him. Whatever he thinks or feels is of supreme importance, and he, therefore, will be prone to saying whatever is on his mind, whether respectful or not, and will pursue whatever appeals to his passions. His self-centeredness will make him arrogant, impatient, demanding, and ungrateful. He will be unable to easily delay gratification. One without self-restraint will lack a mature, selfless concern for others, which is critical for a healthy society.
A wise person is not the same as a smart person whose intelligence is innate. Many highly educated, brilliant people make foolish choices every day—their rational thinking skills impaired by their passions and drives. A person who is truly wise is one who learns from mistakes, makes sound decisions, and handles stressful problems with a level head. More importantly, people with wisdom are rational, because passions are not clouding their thinking. For example, when our craving for illicit sexual experiences causes us to pursue gratification without regard to the consequences, we have not acted in wisdom, but in fact, have become quite the fool. When our craving for alcohol is so great that we sneak to hide our booze and lie to cover our actions, even when sober we make foolish choices that affect everyone around us. When our compulsion to play the lottery or to buy that new dress causes us to spend money that should have been spent on rent, we and others suffer from our unwise choices. Unless a child is raised to say “no” to his passions or whims, he will never walk in the wisdom necessary for maturity. In fact, because that which rules us colors our outlook on life, the child and others raised like him will see life through the cloudy eyes of passion. He will view himself as insightful and wise, when in actuality, he is the opposite, because his perspective is skewed by his passions.
A responsible person is one who accepts personal accountability for his own actions. He does not make excuses or blame others for his failures, and does not expect others to pay the consequences for his mistakes. He takes responsibility for himself and pays his own bills in life. A responsible person is faithful and conscientious in work habits. Such integrity and reliability, however, are only possible when passions are not in charge. When a child’s desire for fun is greater than his sense of duty, he will compulsively play when it is time to work, and when he grows up he will produce poorly for his employer. When a child is not held responsible to fulfill his personal duties, but is given “another chance” time and again, he grows up thinking that everyone else is responsible to bail him out. He thinks he should not have to live with the consequences of his actions, and comes to develop a “victim” mentality—nothing is ever his fault—someone else is always to blame for his misery. He sees himself as not responsible for the results of his choices or of his reactions to life. In fact, he insists he has a right to that which he has not earned and is entitled to be given that for which others have worked.
So the primary goal of parenting is to raise children to be mature, having the traits of self-control, wisdom, and responsibility. The young person whose life reflects these traits will be ready for adulthood, and the society whose citizens reflect such character will be benefited as well. Many parents of the last fifty years have not made instilling these traits their primary goal, so their children have grown up and become politicians, judges, and civil servants who lead us just as their parents led them. Today our nation reaps the bad fruit of that leadership.
Let me say, before I continue, that I am speaking here about proper ways to train our children, with emphasis on the word train. Some people are offended by the concept of training children. “Training,” they insist, “is what you do with dogs. Children are not dogs!” Children are definitely not animals, and should not be treated like them. Training, however, is something we all need as people, especially when simple instruction is inadequate. Instruction involves dispensing of information—training is more intensive and secures a better outcome. That is why employers sponsor on-the-job training for their employees, coaches prescribe fitness training for their athletes, and the military requires basic training for our soldiers. Instruction of children is critical for their development, but instruction must be reinforced by practice, role-playing, and discipline—all aspects of training. Without proper training a child may age, but will not reach maturity.
1. Children must be helped to bring their passions in check.
Children start off life with a will-to-be-gratified. If that will is allowed to continue unchecked, a child will grow up ruled by his passions. A person ruled by his passions will make decisions based not on wisdom or responsibility, but on what gratifies. Such a person will not be governed by objective logic or a commitment to personal integrity, but by what is expedient. He will fight to ensure he and others like him have continued access to that which gratifies, and will try to obligate others to rescue him from the consequences of his choices. To prevent such an outcome, the primary goal of parental training must be to help children learn self-control.
A few years ago, I flew to a conference on Southwest Airlines, which has no assigned seats. I happened to have boarded first and took a seat a few rows from the front. As I sat waiting for the rest of the passengers to board, I observed a tired mom get on with two sons about ten and eleven years old. As she headed down the aisle, the two boys stopped at the two front seats that happened to face each other, and called out to their mother that they wanted to sit there. Apparently having no interest in playing footsie with the passengers she would have to face, Mom told the boys “no” and instructed them to follow her towards the back. The boys obviously knew how to work their mother, so they stood their ground, begging and pointing to the front-row seats. I watched, curious to see if she would obey them. Sure enough, they had trained her well; after a little verbal tit-for-tat she finally gave in and trudged back up to the row in which she did not want to sit.
This mother was representative of so many families in America run not by the parents, but by those least qualified to take charge—the children. It is no surprise that the Duke of Windsor once remarked that what impressed him most in America was the way parents obey their children.[iii]
Families are organizations with two basic roles for the members—parent/leaders and child/followers. It is the job of the older, wiser leaders to direct and equip the youthful, inexperienced followers. It is the responsibility of the followers not to help lead, but to receive the leadership provided by their parents. As the followers learn to say, “Yes, Mom and Dad,” and do exactly what they are told, they are being equipped to be leaders themselves some day. The military learned long ago that the best followers make the best leaders—group consensus destroys effectiveness.
Children, because of their innate desire for gratification, need not to exercise leadership, but to follow strong leadership. Parents are there to give them mastery over their passions. Such training is really not too complicated—small children learn self-control by having to say “no” to themselves and “yes” to their parents. Inner controls are developed by submitting to outer controls.[iv] We therefore, must offer our children strong leadership for the first few years of their life, giving them little say in the decisions we make for them. They must not be included as a part of the husband-wife parental leadership team, not only because they need to learn the self-denial which comes from doing what they are told, but because psychologically, their small shoulders cannot handle the stress of helping to run the home. Young children permitted a constant voice in parental decisions are typically not happy. But once relieved of such duties, they generally become secure and at peace. The weight is lifted from them when it is obvious someone else is in charge.
Children raised to think they should have a say in all decisions that affect them grow up self-centered, demanding, impatient, and ungrateful. They are so absorbed with what they think is best for them, at the exclusion of others, that they are often discontent, critical, and prone to complaining. Parents who encourage their child to always speak his mind may never have to second-guess his opinions, but they inadvertently feed his contempt for authority.
Parents who allow children to jump into parental leadership discussions will discover that the children develop the mindset that they are their parents’ peers, and it is their right to help direct the home. Such familiarity inevitably breeds contempt, thereby causing a parent to lose the respect of their children. Sadly, the children grow up despising the ones in the best position to train and instruct them.
Parents are certainly wise to solicit the thoughts and opinions of their children, especially as they head into adolescence. After all, we love our children—they are our flesh and blood. They are people and deserve the respect of having their thoughts and feelings heard. However, the family is not a democracy—parents are the leaders, and children are the followers. Our country may have democratic elections, but few employers offer employees a vote. So we must teach our children to submit to authority while they are young. Childhood is a season of learning to accept leadership with grace and humility. During this season not only do our children learn self-discipline from submitting to leadership, but that self-discipline equips them to become capable leaders themselves someday. Strong parental leadership, of course, necessitates that parents themselves have a strong moral base.
2. Children’s happiness must not be the driving force of the home.
Yes, we love our children and want them to be happy, but preoccupation with “happy” children is helping to bring down our culture. Our homes, our schools, and our communities have become child-centered—we pander to their desire for fun and gratification, wanting them kept happy at any cost. This has resulted in our children’s will-to-be-gratified thriving into adulthood, and has created a culture of narcissistic teens and adults with an exalted sense of their own importance. With the priority everyone has given their gratification, they have come to believe the world revolves around them.
Do not misconstrue what I am saying—I want children to be happy. Nothing uplifts me more than seeing a joyful child laugh and smile, particularly my own. What I am saying is that we must not live to gratify our children’s desires and make our leadership decisions based on their responses. In my years of traveling the country presenting parenting seminars, the happiest children I’ve seen are always those who are secure under their parents’ loving authority. They obey the first time they are spoken to, and know they will be rewarded with the trust of their parents when they obey or reap a disciplinary consequence if they disobey. They are happy, because they find safety within the boundaries established and enforced by their parents. They are at peace because they do not have to carry the load of helping their parents run the home. Needless to say, homes with secure and peaceful children have far less strife and sibling rivalry—they are happier places to be. None of this should be a surprise—our children are just like us—stress is minimized when we believe someone else is shouldering responsibility.
3. Children must not be indulged.
As parents we want to give our children control over their will-to-be-gratified, but indulging them with everything for which they beg, cry, or pout does the opposite. Indulging them may include keeping their closet full of the latest fashions, buying them the newest video games, or getting them a cell phone with unlimited minutes. We indulge them when we offer freedom to do whatever they want, whenever they want, with minimal accountability. We indulge them when we permit them to talk back and voice their opinions about every instruction they receive. And we inflate their sense of self-importance when we make all family decisions based not on what we think is wisest or best, but on their moods and reactions. An indulged child effectively runs his home.
One of the side effects of habitually gratifying our children’s desires for pleasure is that it creates in them a sense of entitlement, which will be accompanied by a general lack of appreciation. Indulged children are difficult to please—their moments of happiness are often fleeting. And when they are not pleased they can make everyone around them miserable too. Many parents think that such attitudes are simply unavoidable aspects of growing up. They have no idea that these attitudes are fostered by lax or indulgent parenting.
An attitude of appreciativeness is found in children who are humble, who understand the cost of what they have been given, and who realize they have done nothing to earn it. Children who have been given control over their self-centered nature grow up with a great sense of personal responsibility and no sense of entitlement.
The truth is that life does not give us everything we want. It is unfair, then, to buy for our children everything we can afford, and then send them into life ill-equipped for its realities. They will either go deep into debt trying to maintain the lifestyle they learned at home, or they will live in a state of discontent and depend on others to make life better for them. Ultimately, many children today in affluent America are what used to be called “spoiled” children. They grow up thinking that their parents and the world owe them what they crave. If you think about it, spoiled means ruined.
4. Children must not be rescued from every hardship.
When our children are infants we listen to their cries to know when they are suffering some discomfort and need our attention. As I stated in Chapter Three, their will-to-survive manifests as a will-to-be-gratified the older they get. The problem is that many parents never distinguish the difference, and although their children grow older, they continue to rescue them every time they cry, pout, or grumble.
Such “rescuing” might mean they permit the children to complain ungratefully about what they have been served for dinner, or worse, Mom goes back to the stove and cooks them something else. “Rescuing” may mean parents jump to provide entertainment in response to every complaint of boredom. Perhaps they never require the kids to wait patiently for attention, but instead reward their whining and complaining by stopping immediately to give them what they want—and they even apologize when they force them to wait. It even may mean they cut the bread crusts from their children’s sandwiches. To be sure, the children will have to face the bread crusts of life eventually.
Overprotection of our children can mean we run to defend them from anything that might leave them feeling badly about themselves. This might be a sports league that emphasizes winning, a school grading system that might allow them to feel they’ve failed, or words such as “wrong” or “bad.” Whenever their feelings are hurt by a playmate we do our children no favor when we rush to their defense and attack the offender. Parents must protect children from harm. However, we harm them ourselves if we do not teach them how to endure offenses and handle the inevitable “difficult people” in life. We must model for them that other people’s words or opinions of us need not determine how we react.
The old adage “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” seems to have been forgotten. By their defensiveness many modern parents reinforce to their children that words are devastating. Let us raise our children to use kind words themselves, but let us also teach them pity for those who do not speak kindly. If we are not careful we will raise our children to be thin-skinned social wimps who blame others for their own inability to handle offenses.
Another way parents over-protect their children is to exempt them from work around the house. Some parents rationalize that childhood is a time of leisure and fun, kind of “one big recess” before children grow up and have to face the challenges of life. These parents figure that schoolwork provides enough work for kids, and so they minimize or eliminate chores, or any other responsibilities their children might face.
Such parents are deeply confused about parental love. They instinctively feel compelled to nurture and protect, yet their “protection” indulges and effectively harms their children. Learning to face and overcome life’s hardships is a key part of developing maturity. Any experienced athlete will confirm that principle—growth comes through facing challenges, not avoiding them. Parents who rescue their children from the trials of life foster laziness and self-absorption. But even worse, they miss the key season for grooming children for adulthood. Childhood is not to be one big recess before adulthood—it is to be the season for preparation for adulthood and all its responsibilities. We must not rescue our children every time they complain, and we must raise them to understand that all who live in a home are responsible to maintain it—at the least, they need daily chores.[v] These things are imperative for the development of maturity.
5. Children must be allowed to suffer the consequences of their actions.
Parental love compels us to nurture and care for our children. We want to protect them from all suffering. The problem is that misapplied love can be harmful to our children’s development. When we continually rescue them from having to suffer the consequences of their actions, we keep them from developing a proper sense of personal responsibility. We accidentally foster immaturity by doing for our children that which they are able and need to do for themselves.
Responsible people are not only reliable to do their duties, but do not depend upon others to clean up their messes or pay for their obligations. When our children make a mess, they must be required to clean it up. When they break something, they need to repair or replace it. Restoration and restitution are key expressions of personal responsibility.
If our child leaves his bike out in the front yard, despite our warnings, and it is stolen, we must not run off and buy him another one. Children will learn responsibility by having to save their money to buy another one themselves. If they damage a toy belonging to a friend, they must buy a new one whether asked to or not. Parental defensiveness at these times feels so right, but is damaging to our children. From the time they are young we must reinforce to them that it is their duty to clean up their own messes, repair what they damage, and pay their own bills in life, including their own parking tickets and traffic fines.
If we do not hold our children accountable for themselves, but rescue them from the consequences of their actions, they grow up to believe that pursuit of personal pleasure without consequence is their supreme right. They develop a “victim” mentality, thinking that they are not responsible for the circumstances that they have brought upon themselves. In fact, they become convinced that someone else is to blame for their distress, and thus it becomes someone else’s duty to take care of their problems.
In addition, parents accidentally teach children irresponsibility by issuing too many warnings or by reinforcing bad behavior. When a child is caught sneaking dessert before dinner, parents encourage bad behavior by merely admonishing him not to do it again, and allowing him to finish eating what he took. That is no different than teachers who consistently permit students to turn in assignments past the due date, without penalty. Consistently allowing children to behave irresponsibly without consequence encourages future misconduct. In fact, such leniency cultivates the perspective that mercy is owed them.
A victim mentality is also cultivated by excusing children for wrong reactions to others. If Mark punches his brother Billy because Billy called him a bad name, we must not excuse Mark’s violent reaction and accuse Billy of provoking his brother. Billy must be held accountable for his words and Mark must be held accountable for his reactions. Both are 100 percent responsible for their own behavior. If we get in the habit of excusing our children’s reaction to others’ words, they will grow up without emotional resilience, and easily take offense at mere words. Our children must learn from our instruction and our example that our reaction is our responsibility, and that it is a demonstration of maturity to overlook an offense. If we do not, they will grow up as “victims” or follow our example as “enablers.”
6. Children must be required to obey the first time they are spoken to.
In order for children to gain mastery over their will-to-be-gratified they must be trained to do exactly what their parents tell them. This means that parental directives must be spoken calmly and only one time, with an appropriate disciplinary consequence for disobedience.[vi] Children trained this way from the time they are toddlers typically gain the ability to control themselves fairly quickly, and need comparatively little disciplinary consequences from the time they are five years old. Based on our knowledge of parenting customs from earlier centuries, this is the manner in which most of our Founding Fathers were raised, and formed the basis for their own development of character.
An important key to remember is that parents must give directives just once. If they hear themselves saying things such as, “I’ve told you a hundred times…” or “How many times must I tell you…?” they should not be surprised that their children disregard them. From the perspective of the children, all the repeated directives are just warnings, and they are postponing obedience until Mom or Dad “really means business.” The profound truth is that if children can obey after the fifth time—they demonstrate that they do have the capacity to obey. Parents must recognize this and stop the repetition with all its negative fallout.
When an authority figure habitually repeats directives or gives multiple warnings, it produces several negative side effects:
7. Children must be taught to obey without always knowing the reason why.
If parents establish firm behavioral boundaries for their toddlers, not offering a reason why they should obey, and limiting their personal choices, these children, by the time are four years old, will have learned self-denial and be well on the path to self-control. A self-governed four-year-old has accepted his parents’ authority and is prepared to begin hearing the wise reasons behind Mommy and Daddy’s directives. If children are offered reasons to obey before they have learned to obey without them, they will not learn the self-denial that is the foundation for self-control.
Do not misunderstand me; to grow in wisdom, children must be taught the reasoning behind parental commands. The time in childhood to begin making them wise, however, is only after they have demonstrated they can consistently obey without needing to know why. When that time comes, parents must not give lengthy explanations to convince a child that he needs to obey. The plan is to state a simple nugget of wisdom along with the parental directive. A full explanation is not to be given at the moment a child is expected to obey. Children must learn that they are to obey first, and then return for the full reason. Parents who think they will gain better cooperation if they provide reasons along with their commands discover such discussion is perceived as an invitation to debate. Sassy and argumentative children who think that parents owe them convincing explanations usually get that way because parents justify all their instructions. Children raised in such homes tend to grow up insubordinate toward teachers, law enforcement officers, employers, and others in positions of authority.
8. Children must be required to treat parents and other adults with respect.
We live in an age when respect for authority has all but disappeared. When I was young, my friends and I had been taught by our parents that we were to respect our elders. We did not see ourselves as the social equals of adults, so we never dreamed of calling them by their first names. When anyone in authority spoke, we listened and responded in a way that showed no contempt for their position. I recall only once or twice seeing a student “talk back” to a teacher in my K-12 school years. During the student protests in the late 1960s I was stunned by the insubordination toward authority shown by university students on the evening news—I could not relate. As I look back I realize that America was beginning to reap the fruit of indulgent parenting. It is no surprise that just as young people were starting to show disrespect for authority, the crime rate was crawling up as well.
Respect for all authority, whether it is for people or rules, is learned at home. Being required to obey parents and communicate respectfully teaches self-restraint and emphasizes that not everything one feels or thinks need be expressed. It reinforces the self-control inherent to maturity, and helps children grow up to be good citizens.[vii]
9. Children need parental oversight of their moral diet.
As parents we instinctively protect our young. When they are infants we feed them nutritious foods and rescue them from diaper rash; we sterilize their bottles and guard their need for sleep. We teach them to walk, and then keep them away from sharp objects, the fireplace, and dogs that bite. But as they grow older, their desire for gratification increases, and they begin to resist our efforts to shelter them. Many parents are insecure in their authority, so they become intimidated and afraid to stay firm when their children fight them. Against their better judgment, these parents permit their children involvement with questionable entertainment and activities.
By virtue of their years and life experience, parents have a greater understanding of cause and effect than their children. They know the wisdom behind statements such as, “Eat your spinach,” “You need your sleep,” and “Stay out of the street.” All a child knows is that he craves junk food, likes to stay up late, and the street seems a fun place to play. Because the average child has little life experience and his thinking is clouded by his “will-to-be-gratified,” he is the last person to know what is good for him. Parents must realize that they do not need their children’s permission to be “parents”—they already have that role. They must simply act on their authority, without apology. Children will not protect themselves from their appetites, so parents must take charge and protect them physically, mentally, and morally.
For anyone uncertain of children’s need for moral protection, I want to remind them that our values are greatly influenced by what we see and hear. Madison Avenue figured this out a long time ago, and annually profits billions of dollars manipulating people’s values. The government and people in the entertainment industry understand it, too. That’s why music, video games, and movies are regulated with age-appropriate ratings. Children are judged to have a measure of innocence that would be lost if they were exposed to immoral stimulation. Not only does sensuality, vulgarity, or graphic violence rob children of innocence, but excessive exposure desensitizes them and cultivates unhealthy appetites.
I have been collecting studies on the impact of the entertainment media for more than thirty years. The studies overwhelmingly show that what we read, watch, and listen to impacts what we value and how we live. It might be said that our lives bear the fruit of the seeds we plant. Children who saturate themselves with entertainment marked by senseless violence will be more tolerant or prone to violence; those who watch movies or music videos containing sensuality will increasingly express themselves sexually; children or adults with a diet of entertainment involving illicit relationships will treat marriage and wedding vows with less honor. We should not be surprised that as America’s children have developed an appetite for questionable entertainment, the country has sunk to moral lows. The bottom line is that parents must decide who they will permit to plant seeds in their children’s lives.
It is important to note that by itself, sheltering does not create character. It merely protects a child from negative influences during his most formative years—the years his parents are supposed to be actively shaping his character. A child’s character is formed primarily by what good goes into him, and not only by what is kept from him. And no one is in a position to sow into his life like Mom and Dad. Unlimited use of computers, video games, television, and MP3 players is standard diversion for kids these days, but these electronic babysitters are cheap, sometimes harmful substitutes for time with Mom and Dad. Therefore, parents must decide that their children are worth a daily investment of time and should use that time for building character.
10. Children must be loved.
Most parents instinctively love their children. However, not all express their love in constructive ways. As I have sought to point out, some inadvertently harm their children by equating love with indulgence. Others erroneously think it is love to remove all pain and hardships and rescue children from the consequences of their choices. Still others think they love their children when they habitually withhold or soften discipline. And even more subtly, some think love is giving in order to receive affection and loyalty in return. Just because parents have warm feelings of affection for their child does not mean that the child grows up benefiting from that affection.
Parental love means doing what is best for children no matter how they might respond. One of the reasons modern parents are so soft on their children is that they crave their acceptance. They are unlike parents in past generations who did not need their kids to like them. Parents more than fifty years ago knew that life was hard, and in an effort to prepare their children for life, they did not tolerate whining or complaining. Somehow, America has raised a crop of insecure parents who fear their children’s rejection. These parents are afraid to let their children cry. They are scared to make them mad. And they dread the thought that their kids will hate them. These parents, therefore, do all they can to make them happy, and try to win their affection. Such parental love is not love at all. When we give to our children to get affection back, we are not loving them—we are using them to elicit good feelings about ourselves.
The bottom line is that when our children are young and vulnerable, they absolutely need our leadership if they are to grow up to maturity. If we look to them for value and significance, we are not truly leading them—we are following them—much like politicians pandering to voters, hoping to be reelected. True parental love requires self-sacrifice. I do not just mean the sacrifice we manifest as we nurse them through the night when they are sick, or when we give up our Saturdays to take them to soccer. I speak of the sacrifice required to risk loss of popularity. To selflessly love our children means being willing to make decisions or administer discipline no matter what their reaction.
Some parents cannot relate to those who strive for their children’s acceptance. They have read this chapter and feel really good about themselves and their parenting. So for those self-assured, firm parents I have one more admonition about loving children. I want to caution you. I have found that it is possible to intimidate children into subjection, but fail to win their hearts into submission. This means that children may submit to discipline and controls, and listen respectfully when parents speak, but their hearts will be far away. A parent who does not have their child’s heart will eventually discover that all the compliance and respect is simply an expression of self-preservation. Such a child may patronize his parents and outwardly honor them during his early teen years, but flee their authoritarian rule the first chance he gets. The self-discipline and virtue he appeared to have may not go as deeply into his character as his parents had hoped. I’ve heard from hundreds of parents whose seemingly model children grew up and went astray.
Intense, consistent parents, who implement the first nine principles I have outlined, will see children develop self-control and respect for authority. However influencing behavior is not the same as influencing hearts. Parents who are able to maintain influence over their children’s hearts, which is critical in the teen years, are those who have cultivated rich, loving relationships with their children. In the military, establishment of rules without love is effective, but in a family, rules-without-relationship is a recipe for disaster. Intense parents who hold high standards for their homes must be especially careful to not make good behavior their only goal. Parents who want to influence who their teenage children are and not just what they do must love and accept them for who they are, whether they live up to standards or not. After all, our children are just like us—they are drawn to those who accept them. When they look into our eyes, they must see that we value them. And if they fail, they must see that our love and acceptance has not changed.[viii]
I want to emphasize that this summary of basic parenting principles is by no means exhaustive and should not be relied upon as a complete guideline. Anyone who desires help with rearing children should listen to my parenting seminar “Biblical Insights into Child Training” and read my book Child Training Tips: What I wish I knew when my children were young.[ix] In this chapter I have covered these foundational principles strictly to demonstrate how political philosophies are rooted in the way in which people are parented.
To summarize, character, formed in childhood, is a key element of true maturity. If we want our children to flourish in the academic disciplines of school, we need to send them there with self-discipline. If we want to reduce crime and get our people to stop stealing, they must be trained as children to respect others’ personal property. If we want to eliminate violence in our homes, schools, and communities, we must give our children self-control and rear them to love their families, friends, and enemies. If we want to diminish the number of broken homes, we must model the sanctity of marriage for our own children. If we want to reduce out-of-wedlock pregnancies and STDs, our children must learn from us to be self-restrained and to value purity. For children to grow up to be good citizens who take responsibility for themselves, parents must assume their position as parents and give their children the leadership they so desperately need.
[i]. Ed Shipman, founder of Happy Hill Farm Academy/Home; from an interview published in the Omega Financial Group Newsletter, Winter 2006, www.omegasecurities.com/new_winter2006.htm.
[ii]. From a study in the book of Proverbs, Old Testament, Holy Bible.
[iii]. Look Magazine, March 5 issue, 1957.
[iv]. The military understands well this principle and weaves it into the fabric of boot camp.
[v]. Even if we can afford gardeners and maids.
[vi]. For help with understanding appropriate discipline, see Child Training Tips.
[vii]. Some people think that teaching children to respect all adults makes them vulnerable to child molesters. With some children it definitely can. That’s why we must also teach them there are times to respectfully say NO to adults.
[viii]. For more help on how to cultivate love with your adolescent children, refer to my CD set Influencing Children’s Hearts.
[ix]. Both are available at www.familyministries.com.
Excerpted from the fourth chapter of Born Liberal Raised Right