I first saw this article yesterday via a friend’s FB feed. Like a rude awakening, the article hits me like a brick…I spent the night ruminating over these thoughts in my head. The hubs and I have been questioning the effectiveness of our parenting methods on our fiercely independent, soon to be 5 year-old pre-schooler, with a stubborn and slightly self-centered streak (the perils of being an only child) and who sometimes lies to avoid punishments. For a quick tempered person like me, I find it extremely hard to discipline without anger. I find myself feeling exasperated when my discipline do not seem to produce the desired change in behaviour…then came these revelations.
I don’t know if any parents are in the same shoes. We worry that if we do not guide and train her well now in her formative years, we may lose her forever. There are pitfalls where I see myself potentially heading (or midway there) but I know it’s not too late to turn-around. It’s my desire to be a better Mom and I know many of you do too. This article may be a tad wordy but it’s an insightful read. I produce an excerpt here to share with you.
Six Ways Parents Destroy Their Children Without Trying
by Michael Pearl (Source: No Greater Joy Ministries)
“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it”
When children turn out poorly (as many do), parents are at a loss as to why. It is always unexpected—certainly unplanned. An eighteen-year-old is ungrateful and rebellious, walks around like the family is his enemy. Anger is his first response to everything and to nothing.
If you view old TV programs made 50 years ago of families relating to one another, they look like today’s ideal family. Daddy is respected and honored and Mother is cherished. Family problems were always resolved with good cheer and forgiveness. Teenage morality was taken for granted. The future was bright and full of hope, and there was no state of rebellion in the kids.
In contrast, modern TV and movies usually represent today’s average family (accurately I might add) as dysfunctional psycho wards of vindictive anger and disrespect. In most movies, the family is already divorced or going through the painful process. If a movie were made with a teenager loving his parents as they love their children and each other, and everyone with good cheer and hope for the future, it would be considered corny and unrealistic to the point that the only people who could relate to it would be the ones who stopped watching TV thirty years ago.
So I am going to tell you how kids come to a ruinous end without their parents exerting any effort or attention to the process at all. In fact, that is the first step toward sabotaging your children’s future—no effort and no attention.
1. Get so busy providing for them that you don’t have time for them.
Children are like plants growing every day. They need regular attention and direction.
I plant a garden every year. And about half of the time I wait too long to stake my tomatoes. A small plant doesn’t need staking. and I tell myself I will stake them before it becomes critical. But it may rain for an entire week, or I get busy doing something else and can’t get around to it. The plant gets so big the stems fall on the ground. When the leaves of a tomato plant are exposed to the soil they quickly develop disease. When the fruit touches the ground it will rot about the time it should be getting ripe. This year I had a second late patch that I intended to stake but waited too long. I finally staked them but too late to prevent the disease.
It is not what I did; it is what I didn’t do that spoiled the crop. So it is with children, they need constant pruning and fertilizing and training to grow up instead of down— to reach for blue skies instead of crawling along the ground. So the worst thing you can do for your children is just ignore them and allow nature to take its course. Plan on training them but never get around to it. Children need the constant sunshine of their parents’ smile and approval. They need to be pointed in the right direction day after day. They need admonition like a plant needs fertilizer. And as water activates the fertilizer, making it available to the roots, smiles activate our admonition making it available to the soul of the child. Children raised right grow up right, no exceptions. It is God’s certain promise (Proverbs 22:6).
2. Set a bad example.
The second thing parents do that will assure a bitter outcome for the children is to set a bad example.
Some people would say fighting in front of the kids has negative consequences. All fighting whether in front of the kids or in private will be destructive, but the most destructive things is not the fighting as much as how you fight and how it is resolved. I have known families that had big fights, but they were resolved as publicly as they were waged, and the public displays of anger did not create deep hurt in anybody. Public fights should be resolved in public so the kids can see the process of how it is worked out and how forgiveness and understanding occurs.
I have seen other families where the parents were careful to never fight in front of the kids, but the children are able to see the tension and ill will building. The parents come out not speaking to each other, followed by hours or days of emotional distance. Now that kind of fighting is indeed harmful to the children. They are able to feel the bitterness and hate in every moment of silence and self-control. The bad example extends to every area of life. Any discipline you want your children to have you must exemplify it yourself. You can set a bad example in criticizing others, in carelessness with money, unthankfulness, unkindness, laziness, irresponsibility, and more. Be what you want your children to be and you will be providing the best training possible.
3. Expressing displeasure regularly.
This is a biggie. It is so subtle that parents don’t even know it is happening. I have observed parents relating to their children in intermittent displeasure and seen the negative effect it is having. When they asked my advice I have pointed out their destructive tendency to always criticize or show displeasure with their child.
They are usually shocked and unbelieving. “I love my children,” they exclaim. And I respond, “But?” They fill in the blank, “But, he is so stubborn and willful, always doing the opposite to what I tell him.” And with exasperation, and what I detect as anger, they say, “I have spanked him and it seems to do no good; I just don’t know what to do any more.” I follow up with, “You say he is stubborn most of the time; how do you respond most of the time?” She answers, “Sure, I am displeased; what else could I be; I can’t be happy when he is so stubborn.”
It is a vicious cycle. A child’s bad behavior provokes looks of displeasure and looks of displeasure provoke bad attitudes leading to bad behavior. I have said it so many times. If you cannot train your children to do as they ought, it is far better to lower your standards and enjoy them as they are than to allow your looks of displeasure to become the norm. A kid may grow up to be undisciplined and self-willed, but there is no reason to add to it a feeling of being unloved and unable to please.
I emphasize that a vital part of stopping the bad behavior is to cease the cycle of looks of rejection, followed by more bad behavior, followed by more looks of rejection, followed by “I hate you and never want to see you again; why did you have to be my mother/father?”
Child training is causing the child to want to please you and be like you. They will want to please you only when they find pleasure in your presence. You must become the vital source of their joy if they are going to give up their rebellion and choose to exercise self-discipline and self-denial.
4. Not enforcing boundaries.
The next best way to destroy your children without trying is to fail to enforce boundaries. It is easy to do—to not enforce boundaries. Just love your kids and believe they will turn out OK. Smile and believe in the innate goodness of their sweet little hearts, and trust that someday they will grow up and take responsibility for their actions.
It is easy to avoid enforcing boundaries because it is the path of least resistance. Let them do as they please—free expression, you know—and they will become your average normal reprobate. It is a do nothing job that has been left undone by millions of parents.
If children all came into the world disciplined and wise and willing to deny their impulses for the greater good, we could just leave them to free expression, but every parent knows better. All children come to us innocent but fallen. They are hedonistic, self-indulging hippies in their natural state. Left to themselves they will bring their mothers to shame (Proverbs 29:15).
Adults are supposed to be mature enough to choose the virtuous path and do what they ought to do even if is contrary to their desires. That is character, something that you’re not born with; it has to be developed. And children don’t have character unless they are properly trained. Children do not see the need for self-denial or self-restraint. They feel desire and they do what feels good. So if a parent does nothing, their children will become quite schooled in the dark arts of self-indulgence. Therefore, parents must constrain their children to right behavior. In time, their moral understanding will develop and they will begin to choose good, even when it is contrary to their carnal desires. Character is formed, and as training continues his character grows stronger until he matures into an adult.
5. Leaving them to choose their friends.
Many parents have done a good job in training their young children, and have put them on a path of virtue, but in their early teens they are influenced by their peers and yield to temptation while knowing it is not the right path. Even well trained children are flesh and are capable of falling into sin—just as is a moral, disciplined adult.
Kids are not wise. They do yet understand the consequences of wrong choices. They need guidance and oversight until they are about twenty years old—sometimes a little older. About the time kids graduate from college they are wise enough to discern good from evil.
It all starts very young. You must choose the social circle for your children and guard it. This is probably the hardest thing for a parent to do. It requires great effort and constant vigilance to sift your social circle. There are times your kids will not understand, and there are times that other parents are offended, but a mother hen should guard her chicks against the foxes and coyotes, regardless. Find a social circle that is righteous and productive where you have nothing to fear from 25 of the teenagers getting together to play soccer or go roller skating together.
Remember, they will evolve from you providing their complete social circle to choosing for themselves. You cannot control them past the age when they grow to be autonomous, so you must train them to wisely chose their friends. For the time will come when what you say has little bearing. Train them before they are ten and you can trust them when they are twenty.
6. Finally, you can destroy your children by not giving them any responsibility or holding them accountable.
Remember the key ingredient is “without trying.” Neglect or preoccupation is the culprit. It is operating under the assumption that somehow everything will work out. You are best suited to the task of training your children when you work under the assumption that they are destined to ruin unless you get proactive and do some things much better than the average parent.
You should give your children responsibility according to their ability. A child who can walk should be held responsible to pick up his dirty clothes and put them in the laundry basket, clean up spills, and place his toy and books back where they belong. This is the foundation of all future responsible actions.
As they get older, they should be responsible to do their share in domestic chores. Even a five-year-old can appreciate the value of responsible action when he has to pay the price for irresponsibility. If a teenager throws a ball through the window, he should pay to have it repaired.
Accountability is what you demand and exact when they are caused to answer for the way they have handled their responsibility. If you fail to hold them accountable, they are in fact not responsible. It is much easier to do it ourselves, but the children must learn, and the burden falls on us to stay involved for their sakes.
It is difficult in our world “to train up a child in the way he should go,” and some very good and sincere people fail, not for want of personal righteousness, and not from want of trying, but from want of training the kids in the way they should go. It doesn’t matter what you said, or what you did, or what you intended; the bottom line is what did your children believe and feel. “Train up a child in the way he should go,” knowing of a certainty that if you do, “he will not depart from it.”