Whitefield Academy Blog
Why Don’t We Discipline our Kids?
It has happened to me more than once. My girls are playing on the playground and another child is mean to them. Either they won’t let my kids in the playhouse or they ignore my kids or they push my kids off the equipment. And instead of reprimanding their child, the parent looks at me and says, “Sorry my kid is being mean.”
How exactly am I supposed to respond to that? “Oh it’s ok!” “You are right, your kid IS being mean!” “Don’t worry about it! My kids don’t matter that much!” None of those seem to be spot on. Now, the danger of writing a post like this is acting like I have this parenting thing down pat. Let me preface this by saying I do NOT have my parenting act together. Just last night I had to apologize to my eldest for how I acted, and it has happened before that my daughter was the mean one on the playground and I didn’t notice. So instead of bashing other parents, I’m going to explore why, in general, using our family for examples, we do not discipline our children.
Free Range Parenting
“Free Range Parenting” is a movement that ballooned out of the popularity of the 2009 book Free Range Kidswhere the author, Lenore Skenazy, chronicles how she allows her nine year old to ride the NYC subway alone. Her work is a reaction against the “helicopter parenting” modern Americans are known for. I generally don’t see a problem with safe Free Range Parenting: Play in the yard by yourself? Great. Use scissors? Awesome. Ride your bike to school? More power to you, kid. Free Range Parenting does have the benefit of promoting natural consequences for kids: if you climb on a branch that’s unstable, it breaks and you fall off. But some consequences, like making amends with a friend your child has hurt, aren’t as “natural” and have to be put in place by parents. There are certain things kids cannot figure out on their own, namely how to be kind. We aren’t born as nice people. Romans says, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” A certain amount of hands-off parenting is good for kids, but we must be hands on when it comes to teaching our children to be Christ-like to others for we are responsible for them.
Alrighty, picture this scene: I’m working on the computer, and I really need my three year old to get dressed. I yell, “Olive! Time to get dressed!” A few minutes later I yell, “Olive, are you dressed?!” She mumbles something and runs across the hall in pajamas. I keep working on the computer, “Olive, are you dressed yet?!” Still not dressed. This goes on for almost thirty minutes until I finally get off the computer, look her in the eye, and show her that I really do want her to get dressed. Folks, this is lazy parenting. The majority of the time that I do not discipline my kids or don’t follow through with discipline is because it’s a lot of work. It is so much easier, in the short term, to play on my phone. It’s much easier to give my child the thing for which she is whining or ignore her treatment of other kids rather than sitting her down, talking to her about her behavior, and then disciplining her for it. Taking the time now may be harder at the moment, but in the long term, the reward is much greater.
In Stephen Sondheim’s musical Into the Woods, the witch calls out the other characters by saying, “You’re so nice. You’re not good; you’re not bad; you’re just nice.” Americans, especially mid-westerners, love being “nice.” We want people to like us! And there is nothing wrong with that, of course. But when those people are our kids, we have a problem. We should be much more concerned with the types of humans they are becoming than we are with how much they like us. Discipline does not make you popular with your kids, but when you’re honest with them about why you’re disciplining them, when you are consistent, and when you act in love, they will eventually see the importance of what you’re doing.
Parents of Older Kids
The majority of this post has been geared toward parents of younger kids, but just because your child is 17 does not mean you are off the hook. Parenting teenagers is no fun. The glimpses I’ve seen with my “three-nager” has me dreading ten years from now. The temptation to be a “lazy parent” or a “selfish parent” increases greatly when you know the reaction can be a loud “I hate you!” followed by a door slam. Proverbs 22:6 challenges us to “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Instead of seeing high school as the evening of our parenting years, we should see it as the final push to the finish. The last few moments of time we have to train up our children. Rather than turning a blind eye and thinking, “Well they’re on their own now. They’ll figure it out,” be honest with your children about their bad treatment of others or their gossip or their harshness with you. Turn them to Scriptures that describe what it means to be a follower of Christ and challenge them to behave in an honorable way.
So rather than apologizing for our kids to other parents, let’s get off our phones, pull out our ear buds, and take the time to genuinely engage with our children in meaningful ways, training them and yes, disciplining them so that they grow up to be kind and loving people. P.S. Please don’t start watching my kids more closely to see how they behave…you will be disappointed and I’ll be embarrassed. Looking for a spot to store this giant soap box on which I’ve been standing.