January 16, 2016
I was a youth pastor for 13 years. Back then I knew a lot about raising kids, especially teenagers. I gave parents a lot of great advice about raising their teens, but that was a long time ago…long before we raised four teenagers…long before we had six teenage grandchildren. Life was simpler then because I didn’t actually have to make my opinions work. Nor did I have to live with the teenagers who were experiencing my “incredible wisdom.” Instead I handed out my advice with great confidence because it always worked out perfectly in the test center of my imagination.
Nearly four decades have passed since then. I look back at my counsel and cringe at the pure arrogance of much of my advice. It’s not so much that I gave people terrible guidance, it’s just that back then I had dogmatic opinions about things I had actually never experienced personally.
Now I listen to others do the same thing; they know exactly what the president should do about every global conflict…what parents should do in each of their struggles…and what God should do about their neighbor’s sin. There are some common threads to this kind of bad advice. Here are a few of them:
1. It’s “one size fits all” kind of advice.
I don’t really have to know the circumstances or understand the people involved because there is only one right answer for each situation. NOT!
2. Then there’s the clichéish type of counsel, which is often rooted in one verse or in a simple quote.
Here’s one, “A gentle answer turns away wrath.” That’s true unless it doesn’t work. Let me give you an example: what if a man abuses his wife when he is drunk and her kindness literally has no effect on his rage? Then what should you tell her?
3. There is the “life is predictable” kind of counsel.
Their advice is like solving a math problem: Two + two = four every time. It’s simple, predictable, and easy. Sometimes this is true, but people are free agents and free thinkers who often act out of emotion, feelings, and impulse rather than logic and reason.
4. How about the talk show junkies?
They follow Dr. Laura or Dr. Phil, both whom solve people’s complex problems in five minutes on the air. They don’t even have to listen to the other side of the story before they deliver their life-directing advice. Famous talk show hosts may be entertaining, but receiving counsel from people who don’t even have time to hear your problem, much less the perspectives of the others involved, is dumb! Quoting these people when you are trying to help your friend through a conflict can be stupid on steroids.
That being said, I have learned some things about raising kids that have stood the test of time. These principles are not magic pills or supernatural formulas that always work, but they are values that have helped many families thrive through the years.
1. Love always wins!
Okay Kris, everybody knows that, but how do I apply this to raising my kids? Good question! First of all, don’t make affection the prize for good behavior. I mean, don’t withdraw affection when your children aren’t performing well, otherwise they will learn that you only love them because they are “good.”
Your children need to “feel” like you are disciplining them for their good, not because you are angry. In fact, don’t deal out discipline when you are mad. Have them go to their room. Then, after you cool off, think through the right response and apply the discipline.
2. The goal of discipline is for our children to learn how to manage themselves from the inside out.
Discipline is not a prison where our children do the crime and now they must do the time. Discipline is the potter’s hands; the firm guidance of caring parents who love them too much to leave them living less than nobly.
3. Beware! Children must never feel like they are bad or that they are prone to evil.
In other words, the message of discipline is “you are way too awesome to have that attitude or behave like that.” Never use shame to motivate your children! Conviction says, “You did something wrong,” but shame says, “You are something wrong!”
Children crumble in homes where they can’t do anything right. Families that reinforce the mentality that you are not smart enough, you’re not pretty enough, you are not good enough, you are not spiritual enough (the list goes on and on), are cultures that destroy kids self esteem.
One of the most common ways children feel shamed and unworthy is when their parents compare them to others. “Why can’t you be like your brother? He always does blah, blah, blah.” The message is clear: you are the bad child, the problem kid, the difficult son or daughter.
4. Don’t give kids ridiculous disciplines like grounding them for two years.
The idea is for them to repent for the attitude that caused their behavior. Therefore, it needs to be clear what the process of repentance looks like so that they understand what needs to change. Vague language like, “You need to change your attitude,” may not be a clear path to repentance.
Try to discern the source of their bad behavior. Only correcting their behavior is like cutting the top of a weed off but not pulling the root. It’s just going to grow back. Changing their behavior without changing their attitude teaches them to not be authentic, to pretend to fit in, and to be a phony. Bad behavior is actually a great parental tool to know if their heart has really changed. Think about it this way: if their behavior changes because they are afraid to be punished then it’s hard to tell if their heart has changed.
Here is an example of what I’m trying to say: let’s say Johnny is always rude to his sister. You finally intimidate him into changing his actions, but do you actually know why he was rude? Does he feel like she is the good child and he is the bad kid? Or is there some other dynamic at work in their relationship that needs to be solved? You might have just buried the problem under the cloak of fear.
5. Don’t be the “NO” parent; the home with tons of rules!
Your rules must make sense. Saying things like “Do it because I said so,” might make you feel powerful, but it creates a culture where the family serves the rules instead of understanding that the rules are actually there to help each member be safe and fully actualized.
6. Be consistent!
Parenting shouldn’t depend on your mood. Your kids should be able to count on your response. If you have days when you enforce some rules and other days that you don’t, right and wrong become relative to your feelings. You are also teaching them to live by their feelings instead of their virtues.
7. If your tone of voice determines your response then your kids will not obey until you communicate to them that “NOW” you are going to act.
I hear parents say, “My kids won’t do what I tell them to do unless I yell!” Well that is probably because you don’t act until after you yell. But if you acted sooner so would they!
Part 2 is coming soon….
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