Raising Children in a Permissive World
HAVE you ever watched a child begging for a certain toy that the parent does not wish to buy? Or a child who wants to run and play when the parent has said, “Stay put”? You can see that in cases like these, the parent wants to act in the child’s best interests. Nonetheless, all too often the parent gives in. Under a barrage of whining, the parent changes no to yes.
Many parents seem to believe that good parenting means bending to the will of their children in most things. In the United States, for example, a poll was taken of 750 children aged 12 to 17. When asked how they respond when their parents tell them no, nearly 60 percent of the children said that they keep asking. Some 55 percent found that this tactic usually worked. Their parents may feel that such permissiveness shows love, but does it really?
Consider this wise proverb from ancient times: “If one is pampering one’s servant from youth on, in his later life he will even become a thankless one.” (Proverbs 29:21) Granted, a child is not a servant. Would you not agree, though, that the principle applies to child rearing? Pampering children, giving them all they want, may cause them to grow up to be “thankless”—spoiled, willful, unappreciative adults.
In contrast, the Bible advises parents: “Train up a boy according to the way for him.” (Proverbs 22:6) Wise parents follow this direction, setting and enforcing clear, consistent, and reasonable rules. They do not confuse love with permissiveness; nor do they reward children for whining, nagging, or throwing tantrums. Rather, they agree with Jesus’ wise words: “Just let your word Yes mean Yes, your No, No.” (Matthew 5:37) What, though, is involved in training children? Consider a powerful illustration.
“Like Arrows in the Hand”
The Bible illustrates the parent-child relationship in a way that highlights a child’s need for parental guidance. Psalm 127:4, 5 says: “Like arrows in the hand of a mighty man, so are the sons of youth. Happy is the able-bodied man that has filled his quiver with them.” So children are likened to arrows, and the parent is likened to a mighty warrior. Just as an archer knows that his arrows will not hit the target by chance, loving parents realize that child rearing cannot be a haphazard business. They want their children to reach a “target”—a fulfilling life as happy, responsible adults. They want their children to make good choices, to be wise and avoid needless problems, and to achieve worthwhile goals. But wanting such things is not enough.
If an arrow is to reach its target, what is needed? It must be thoroughly prepared, well protected, and powerfully directed toward its target. Likewise, children need to be prepared, protected, and directed if their journey toward adulthood is going to be successful. Let us consider these three aspects of child rearing one at a time.
Thoroughly Preparing the Arrow
The arrows used by archers in Bible times were prepared very carefully. The shaft, perhaps made of a lightweight wood, had to be carved by hand and made as straight as possible. The tip had to be sharp. At the other end of the shaft, feathers were attached to stabilize the arrow in flight, keeping it on course.
Parents want their children to be like those straight arrows—upright, free from deviation. Therefore, if they are wise, they do not turn a blind eye to serious faults but lovingly help their children to work on these and overcome them. There will be plenty of such work to do with any child, for “foolishness is tied up with the heart of a boy.” (Proverbs 22:15) The Bible thus exhorts parents to discipline their children. (Ephesians 6:4) Indeed, discipline plays a vital role in forming and straightening out a child’s mind and character.
No wonder, then, that Proverbs 13:24 says: “The one holding back his rod is hating his son, but the one loving him is he that does look for him with discipline.” In this context, the rod of discipline represents a means of correction, whatever form it may take. By administering loving discipline, a parent seeks to correct faults that if they were to become deeply rooted, would cause the child much misery in adult life. Truly, withholding such discipline amounts to hate; administering it is an act of love.
A loving parent also helps the child to understand the reasons behind the rules. Discipline thus involves not only the giving of commands and the meting out of punishment but, more important, the imparting of understanding. The Bible notes: “An understanding son is observing the law.”—Proverbs 28:7.
The feathers, or fletching, that an archer attaches to his arrows help them to fly straight after they leave his bow. Likewise, Bible teachings from the Originator of the family arrangement can stay with children even after they leave home, benefiting them throughout life. (Ephesians 3:14, 15) How, though, can parents make sure that such teachings are really “attached” to their children?
Notice God’s counsel to Israelite parents in Moses’ time: “These words that I am commanding you today must prove to be on your heart; and you must inculcate them in your son.” (Deuteronomy 6:6, 7) So parents need to do two things. First, they need to learn and apply God’s Word themselves, actually coming to love God’s laws. (Psalm 119:97) Then they are in a position to apply the second part of the scripture—to “inculcate” God’s laws in their children. That means impressing the value of such laws on their children’s hearts through effective teaching and frequent repetition.
Clearly, there is nothing old-fashioned or out-of-date about teaching Bible principles or using loving discipline to correct serious faults. These are vital ways to prepare those precious “arrows” for a straight and steady flight toward adulthood.
Protecting the Arrow
Let us return to the illustration recorded at Psalm 127:4, 5. Recall that the archer “filled his quiver” with his arrows. Once prepared, arrows had to be protected. Thus, the archer carried them in a quiver, where they would not be easily damaged or broken. Interestingly, the Bible speaks prophetically of the Messiah as a polished arrow that his Father “concealed . . . in his own quiver.” (Isaiah 49:2) Jehovah God, the most loving Father imaginable, did indeed protect his beloved Son, Jesus, from all manner of harm until the appointed time came for the Messiah to be put to death as foretold. Even then, God protected his Son from being permanently harmed by death, bringing him safely back to heaven, to live eternally.
Likewise, good parents are concerned about protecting their children from the dangers of this degraded world. It may be that parents prohibit certain activities that would unnecessarily expose their children to dangerous influences. For example, wise parents take this principle seriously: “Bad associations spoil useful habits.” (1 Corinthians 15:33) Protecting children from association with those who do not respect the moral standards of the Bible will likely keep young ones from making a number of costly, even deadly, mistakes.
Children may not always appreciate parental protection. In fact, they may well resent it at times, for protecting your children will often mean telling them no. A respected author of books on child rearing comments: “Though they don’t always show it and probably won’t thank you at that moment, children really do want parents to provide safe, predictable structure in their lives. We can do that by being an authoritative parent who sets limits on behavior.”
Yes, protecting your children from anything that might rob them of their peace, their innocence, or their clean standing before God is an essential way to show that you love them. In time, they will likely come to understand your motives, and they will appreciate your loving protection.
Directing the Arrow
Note that Psalm 127:4, 5 likens the parent to “a mighty man.” Does this mean that only a father can be effective in the parental role? Not at all. In fact, the principle of this illustration applies to both fathers and mothers—and to single parents as well. (Proverbs 1:8) The phrase “mighty man” suggests that a considerable amount of strength was required to shoot an arrow from a bow. In Bible times, bows were sometimes mounted with copper, and a soldier was said to ‘tread the bow,’ perhaps bracing the bow with his foot so that he could string it. (Jeremiah 50:14, 29) Clearly, much energy and effort went into pulling that taut string back in order to shoot those arrows toward their mark!
Similarly, raising children requires considerable effort. They do not simply rear themselves, any more than an arrow launches itself toward its target. Sadly, many parents today seem unwilling to expend the kind of effort that is needed. They take the easy way out. They let television, school, and peers teach their children about right and wrong, about morals, about sex. They let their children have whatever they want. And when saying no seems like too much work, they simply say yes—often excusing their decision by saying that they do not want to hurt their children’s feelings. In reality, it is their permissiveness that will do their children real, lasting harm.
Raising children is hard work. Doing that work wholeheartedly with the guidance of God’s Word is certainly demanding, but the rewards are priceless. Parents magazine noted: “Studies . . . have found that children brought up by loving but authoritative parents—those who are supportive of their children yet maintain firm limits—excel academically, develop better social skills, feel good about themselves, and are happier overall than kids whose parents are either too lenient or excessively harsh.”
There is an even better reward. Earlier we considered the first part of Proverbs 22:6: “Train up a boy according to the way for him.” The verse continues with these heartwarming words: “Even when he grows old he will not turn aside from it.” Does this inspired proverb offer a guarantee of success? Not necessarily. Your child has free will and will grow up to exercise it. But this verse offers parents a loving assurance. What is that?
If you train your children according to the Bible’s counsel, you are creating the most favorable circumstances to bring about a marvelous result—seeing your children grow up to be happy, fulfilled, and responsible adults. (Proverbs 23:24) By all means, then, prepare those precious “arrows,” protect them, and expend yourself in directing them. You will never regret it.
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Do parents show love for their children by giving in to their every demand?
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A loving parent explains the reasons behind family rules
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Good parents protect their children from the dangers of this degraded world
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Raising children is hard work, but the rewards are priceless