“Do Not Be Irritating Your Children”
“FATHERS, do not be irritating your children.” So said the apostle Paul. (Ephesians 6:4) In Western lands, where parents are subjected to the stresses and strains of industrialized society, it is not always easy for them to deal kindly with their children. And child rearing is no less a challenge in developing lands. True, the pace of life may be slower than in the West. But long-standing customs and traditions may influence parents to deal with children in ways that are almost sure to frustrate and irritate them.
Children in some developing lands are placed on the lowest rung of the ladder of recognition and respect. In certain cultures children are ordered about in threatening and authoritative tones, yelled at and insulted. It may be rare to hear an adult say a kind word to a child, not to mention courtesies such as “please” and “thank you.” Fathers feel they must establish their authority with strong hands; hard words are reinforced with hard blows.
In some African cultures, it is even viewed as impertinent for a child to say a greeting to a grown-up on his own initiative. It is not uncommon to see youths, weighed down with heavy loads on their heads, patiently waiting for permission to greet a group of adults. The grown-ups will carry on their idle chatter, ignoring the waiting youths until they choose to let them offer greetings. Only after those greetings have been said are the children allowed to pass.
Poverty is another factor that can work against the welfare of children. At the expense of their health and schooling, youngsters are exploited as child laborers. Unreasonably heavy work loads may be placed on children even at home. And when families in rural areas send their children to the big cities to be cared for by relatives while they are being schooled, they are frequently treated as virtual slaves. Surely, all this shabby treatment is irritating to children!
What ‘Irritating Them’ Means
Some parents allow themselves to be carried along by the tide of popular child-rearing customs with little thought as to the consequences. However, it is with good reason that God’s Word urges parents not to irritate their children. The original Greek expression rendered “do not be irritating” literally means “not be you provoking to wrath.” (Kingdom Interlinear) At Romans 10:19, the same verb is rendered “incite to violent anger.”
Today’s English Version thus says: “Do not treat your children in such a way as to make them angry.” The Jerusalem Bible similarly says: “Never drive your children to resentment.” The Bible is therefore not talking about the minor irritations a parent might unwittingly cause his child because of imperfection, nor is it condemning righteously applied discipline. According to Lange’s Commentary on the Holy Scriptures, this Bible verse speaks of “the hasty, rough, moody treatment of children, so that . . . they are repelled and enticed to opposition, defiance and bitterness.”
As educator J. S. Farrant observed: “The fact is that children are human. They do not simply respond in a passive way as plants do to their environment. They react.” And often the reaction to unjust treatment results in spiritual and emotional devastation. Says Ecclesiastes 7:7: “For mere oppression may make a wise one act crazy.”
Raising Children in God’s Discipline
Parents who desire their children to go on walking in the truth must not allow cultural norms and traditions to be the sole determinants of how they will rear their children. (Compare 3 John 4.) After warning parents about irritating their children, Paul added: “Go on bringing them up in the discipline and mental-regulating of Jehovah.” (Ephesians 6:4) Jehovah’s standards thus supersede local customs and views.
Whereas it may be common in certain lands for children to be treated as inferiors and as slave laborers, the Bible declares at Psalm 127:3: “Look! Sons are an inheritance from Jehovah; the fruitage of the belly is a reward.” Could a parent maintain good relations with God if he treated his inheritance abusively? Hardly. Nor is there room for the view that children exist solely to meet the needs of their parents. At 2 Corinthians 12:14, the Bible reminds us: “For the children ought not to lay up for their parents, but the parents for their children.”
It is not that children should be excused from doing their share of household chores and duties. But should not the child’s own best interests be taken into consideration? For instance, when Yaa, a Christian girl in Africa, was asked what she would like most for her parents to do for her, she answered: “I wish that my household chores would be reduced on the days that I have field service arrangements.” So if a child is finding it difficult to be in school on time or to attend meetings due to a heavy load of household chores, would it not be best to make some adjustments?
Granted, young ones can be difficult to deal with. How can parents deal with them in a way that is not abusive or irritating? Says Proverbs 19:11: “The insight of a man certainly slows down his anger.” Yes, first you can try to understand your child as an individual. Each child is unique, with his own interests, capabilities, and needs. What are these? Have you taken the time to get to know your child and to learn the answer to this question? Working and worshiping together, engaging in family recreation—these things provide opportunities for parents to draw closer to their children.
At 2 Timothy 2:22, Paul made another interesting observation when he told Timothy: “Flee from the desires incidental to youth.” Yes, Paul understood that youth can be a turbulent period. Dramatic physical and emotional changes take place. Attraction to the opposite sex grows. During this time, youths need mature and loving direction to avoid serious pitfalls. But they need not be treated as if they are immoral. The exasperated daughter of one Christian man lamented: “If I have not committed fornication, but my father is accusing me of it, I may as well go ahead and do it.” Instead of imputing bad motives, express confidence in your child. (Compare 2 Thessalonians 3:4.) Instead of being critical, be empathetic and discerning in a loving, consistent way.
Many problems can be averted, however, if parents discuss beforehand the moral dangers a child faces. Remember, God obligates parents to train and educate their offspring in God’s Word. (Deuteronomy 6:6, 7) That may require considerable time and effort. Unfortunately, some parents fail to carry out their teaching assignment because they lack patience. Illiteracy, a huge problem in many developing lands, hinders other parents.
In some cases a mature Christian can be called upon to help out. It may simply be a matter of offering suggestions to the less experienced parent. (Proverbs 27:17) Or it may involve helping out with conducting the family study itself. But this does not relieve the parent of his responsibility to teach his offspring God’s Word. (1 Timothy 5:8) He can make an effort to work with his children in the field ministry and to discuss spiritual matters at meals or on other appropriate occasions.
A youth approaching adulthood may naturally desire more independence. Often this is misinterpreted as insubordination or insolence. How exasperating it would be if his parents reacted by treating him as a small child and refused to give him more latitude in his actions! Equally irritating would be for them to decide every aspect of his life—education, career, marriage—without talking matters over with him in a calm and respectful manner. (Proverbs 15:22) The apostle Paul urged fellow Christians to “become full-grown in powers of understanding.” (1 Corinthians 14:20) Should not parents wish that their own children grow up—emotionally and spiritually? Yet, a youth’s “perceptive powers” can only be trained “through use.” (Hebrews 5:14) To use them he must be granted a certain amount of freedom of choice.
Raising children during these difficult days is not easy. But parents who follow God’s Word do not irritate or exasperate their children “so that they do not become downhearted.” (Colossians 3:21) Rather, they endeavor to treat them with warmth, understanding, and dignity. Their children are led, not driven; nurtured, not ignored; moved to love, not provoked to wrath or frustration.
[Picture on page 31]
Playing “oware,” a local indoor game in Ghana, gives these parents an opportunity to associate with their children