It is amazing how many stories I hear of children — even in good Christian homes — that grow up to abandon everything they were taught, abandon church, abandon the values, morals and standards their parents hold to and jump pell-mell into a life that ends up consuming them — much like the story of the Prodigal Son. I’m glad the Prodigal Son came back; I just wish he would’ve never left to begin with.
Statistically, we are doing something wrong — very wrong. As parents, many of us believe in being strict with our children and holding them to a high moral standard in order to protect them from the sharks of the world seeking to consume them. Yet so many of these children jump ship in their early 20s and late teens. What are we doing wrong?
More than likely, there are many things we are doing wrong. Childrearing has never been fully mastered. Still, I believe there is an inherent mistake that strict parents make in their determination or desperation to prevent their children from duplicating their own mistakes.
The Most Common Mistake Strict Parents Make
Most parents want their children to grow up and retain many of the values and morals that the parents tried to instill into their lives. But unless the child decides for themselves that these values are their values, they will go a different way when the opportunity presents itself — after they are 18. The problem is that no number of rules or commands can get a child to want to adopt these values as their own. Therein is the problem. We try to “legislate” values, morals, character, and even a walk with God.
Like a drill instructor, we pile on the rules and expectations, clinging to Proverbs 22:6 as the validation for our methods and the hope of the end result, and then watch heartbroken as our children toss these rules and expectations right out the window the moment they leave home. We use the rules to bend our children’s wills to our expectations, but we’ve never won their hearts. And that is the main reason why we lose them.
Solomon asked for his son’s heart in Proverbs 23:26. He knew that his values would never transfer to his son unless he could somehow capture his son’s heart. This is the difference between rules that are made to force a child to conform and rules that the child understands are there to protect him or her. Even as an adult, I tend to rebel against rules that I perceive are meant only to get me to conform to someone else’s idea of what I should be. But rules that I clearly understand are meant to protect me or that are meant to give me an advantage against an evil world are rules I will follow gladly.
Change the Focus of Your Rules
Parents, use your rules to teach your children, to help win their hearts. This means you will have to take the time and explain “why.” As of this writing, I have three teenage boys in my home. So far, all of them have adopted and are adopting my values and morals. I think one of the reason this is true is because I have tried to “show” my children the value of each rule and standard. I take the time to explain, and I look for opportunities to show my children the advantages and strengths of each rule.
It is important to me that my children understand. If they don’t understand, I feel they will eventually dismiss it. But if the rule makes sense to them, then they will adopt the standard, the value, and the moral as their own. Instead of legislating my children’s walk with God, I try to find circumstances in their life where a walk with God would improve their situation and help them. My children need to know a dynamic relationship with Jesus that is uniquely their own. If they are only living off my relationship with God, then they will one day abandon it because they have never experienced the value of it for themselves.
Your rules and commands, therefore, should change. Your rules should be less about making your children conform to a particular standard and more about helping them understand life. Let your children experience the benefits of your rules! To see these benefits, they need to understand the rule’s purpose. I’m talking about teenagers here, not little children who may be too young to understand. When your children become teenagers, you should have already won their hearts and are now preparing them for life.
Give Your Children Reason and Understanding
Part of being successful in life is understanding why you do what you do. When I was a teenager, my dad tossed a Bible on my bed and said, “Son, you better figure out what you believe and why you believe it — and it can’t be because I believe it or your pastor believes it. You need to know.” I took that challenge. I read my Bible through for the first time because I wanted to. I began living by the rules and standards of my parents because I saw the value in them. In understood, finally, the importance of church and of a walk with God.
You’ll never have to tell your children to brush their teeth the moment they realize the value in doing so. When they don’t want to repel their friends with their foul breath, they’ll brush their teeth. The same concept holds true for everything else. Understanding brings wisdom. Wisdom will help form good decision-making skills.
Your children, by the time they are 18, with your guidance, should have discovered the value of your rules and standards, experienced the benefits of a walk with God, and found safety and advantage in the way you’ve taught them to live their lives. If they have that, they won’t stray.
Yes, raising children takes lots of prayer. It takes wisdom. And it takes a lot of your time. But it is worth every second. My dad convinced me to never smoke one day by the use of a simple device. He never told me not to smoke. Instead, while walking by a man smoking and coughing, he remarked, “Bet that guy couldn’t last long on a soccer field.” Now understand. I loved soccer. I was good at it too. So I took one look at that guy and said in my heart, “I’ll never smoke!” I made that decision because I saw value in being able to run up and down a soccer pitch without wheezing and hacking. Not smoking made perfect sense to me at that point.
My dad tricked me into deciding to adopt his standard. It worked too. Use your rules for the same purpose.
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