Fourteen year old Sally and her parents sat in front of me in my counseling office one afternoon. Sally chomped her gum and looked bored, her mom looked terrified, and her dad looked angry. They had come because Sally had been staying out past curfew, was getting poor grades in school, and her attitude had been disrespectful. She was not responding to the correction given by her parents and they described themselves as at the end of their rope.
Mom told me they had been in church every Sunday and Wednesday since Sally was born. They kept her out of public schools instead home educating and more recently putting her in a private school. Mom said they would do anything for Sally.
When asked, Dad said Sally was a spoiled brat. He said she just needed some discipline but that his wife would not let him punish Sally. He told me that every consequence he gave Sally was undermined by his wife, so he just gave up.
This is unfortunately a common scenario when dealing with families. In this case as we counseled together several things quickly came to light. Dad was overly harsh in his dealings with Sally and Mom felt she needed to step in and protect her.
Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged. Colossians 3:21 (ESV)
Dad often “disciplined” Sally while enraged with her. He would say things that were cruel and condescending to her when angry, and routinely used sarcasm when speaking with her. He was shown from the Bible how his actions revealed a heart of anger and taught how to address his sinful anger in a way that honors God. He did not understand what biblical discipline is and had no idea that the central theme of discipline is to disciple or teach his daughter how to live righteously before God. Once he learned how to ask Sally questions that would engage her mind and conscience instead of her emotions he began to learn who his daughter really was. Instead of asking her why she said or did something, he would ask what outcome she was looking for or what she meant by what she said. He learned Sally was quite frightened of him because of his past rage-filled actions toward her. In time, they both learned to listen to understand what the other was saying, to ask clarifying questions, and to confess their sin to one another seeking forgiveness.
But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Colossians 3:8 (NIV)
Mom also had a part to play in this broken family. She overcompensated for her husband’s harshness by making secret treaties with her daughter. She would criticize her husband to Sally and tell her she didn’t agree with the discipline or with much that her husband did in parenting. She would allow Sally to do things and go places she knew her husband would forbid, and then instruct Sally not to tell. When Dad would ground Sally (which is rarely an effective discipline) Mom would allow Sally to go out, use the phone or computer when her husband was not around. Mom had become a liar and brought Sally into a conspiracy against her Dad by these actions. Sally saw this as Mom clearly not respecting Dad or his authority in the home and took advantage of the situation. The truth was, there was little respect toward the man of the house in any situation.
With Sally out of the room, Mom was confronted about her unbiblical activities and called to account for making secret treaties, lying and other deception, disrespecting her husband, and hypocrisy.
Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, Colossians 3:9 (NASB)
Her heart was also exposed and she was instructed in how to make an appeal to her husband, the command to respect him and what biblical submission look like.
Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband. Ephesians 5:33 (NASB)
This family demonstrates some of the common issues seen in a counseling situation when parent’s have blown it. Scripture is very clear on each of the issues represented in this case. Parents who are harsh, angry, and overbearing with what they call punishment will produce an angry, rebellious child.
Parents should never seek to “punish” their children anyway! Parents are commanded to discipline their children, not punish them. Punishment does not fulfill the Scriptural admonition to teach, rebuke, correct, and train in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16). Discipline encompasses all of these elements and will bring a harvest of righteousness in your family.