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About this series
10 Ways to be an Exceptional Parent in a Quick Fix World
Just like anything that’s constructed well – a solid business, a powerful engine, or a superb meal – successful parenting requires intentionality and a plan. And that’s why Living on the Edge is pleased to share this series from Doug Fields, Senior Director of the Homeword Center for Youth and Family at Azusa Pacific University. Doug has been called by many "America's youth pastor."More from this series
Personally, well in my opinion, I think the best discipline is what I call: “discipline by choice.” Discipline by choice is a fair consequence clearly communicated ahead of time connected to the offense.
Maybe if you’re taking notes I’d write: “No surprises,” off to the side. The kid shouldn’t have any, any surprises there. Now, what this does is it doesn’t set you up against your kid. Most discipline is this: Me, as the parent, against my kid.
But if it’s agreed upon ahead of time and it’s clear, what happens is, and then there’s fair and natural consequences, what happens is it is me and my kid against the consequence. And there’s a big difference.
Now, you need to figure this out in your context what it means for your age-appropriate kids. But, like, when my kids, most recently, again – twenty-five, twenty-two, nineteen – so when they were in high school, and my daughter, we had curfew. So my daughter, let’s just say she breaks curfew. Well, a lot of parents meet their kids at the door screaming and yelling and shaming and threatening.
For Cathy and I, we played it different. We would answer the door and go, “Oh, gosh, I’m so glad you’re safe. You know how much we love you and when you didn’t come in on time, we were just getting a little bit nervous because normally you make such great choices. And then I started to get sad for you because I know how much you like to go out on Friday nights and then the next three weeks you have to stay in with me and mom. And I just feel so bad. But I figured you took all that into consideration because you knew that all choices have consequences.”
Now, no matter how well you say it, your kids are still going to get mad. I have never had one of my kids go, “You know, Dad, you’re right. Thank you. Thank you. The way that you established clear boundaries and I knew what the measured consequence was and I evaluated my decision and, Dad, you’re really an excellent father. Thank you. Thank you.”
That never happens. But what it does is it keeps me from being an idiot. From yelling and screaming and shaming and posturing. For many parents, the most difficult part of this is enforcing. And if you can’t enforce delicate discipline, you’re never going to be an effective parent. And that’s a biggie. Because if you don’t, your kids are never going to become responsible.
And that’s the sixth thing that all kids need from caring adults is they need activated responsibility. Activated responsibility. When people find out that I am an advocate for kids, whether it’s a radio interview or promoting a book or something like that, people will say, “Doug, why do you think today’s young people are so irresponsible?”
Okay? It’s a fair question. But nobody likes my answer because I always say, “Oh, that’s easy. It’s your fault.” Really. “What do you mean it’s my fault?” “Yeah. It’s your fault that kids are irresponsible. The reason it’s your fault is because responsibility is not genetic. Responsibility must be taught and it must be modeled.
And I think this one is one of the biggies to get us to the five Cs that we have been talking about. And the way, if you’re going, How do I know if my kid is irresponsible? I call it the A, B, Cs. “A” stands for apathy. Where they just go, “I just don’t care about being responsible.”
“B” is blame. “It wasn’t my fault. It’s the stupid teacher, it’s the lame coach, it’s my dumb parents.” Always blaming everybody else. The “C” is what I call the “care for me” mentality. “I have been cradled my whole life. It’s not that big of a deal. Somebody will save me from this. They’ll figure it out.”
Think about today’s generation of kids. When they grow up, what are they going to say to their kids and their great grandkids about growing up in today’s culture? Like my dad would always talk about, “You know, son, when I was your age, I had to walk to school uphill, both ways, in the snow, barefoot, on razor blades.”
Whatever it was. What is today’s kids? Well, when I was your age, if I was hungry, I had to talk to a dietician. And one time my parents made me supervise the house cleaner. That was rough.
So, parents, how are we contributing to this? Let’s at least hold up the mirror and say, Okay, how are we contributing to kids being irresponsible? Which, by the way, if you look at culture, the average age of marriages used to be in the early twenties. Now they are in the late twenties.
There is a new term coming out called: Extended adolescence. That adolescence is moving into the late twenties because people are not growing up. They are not taking responsibility for themselves.
So how might we be contributing to that? Well, a couple ways. One, always picking up after kids when they are little, not making them responsible. I think when it comes to money, we make money easily available and not valuable enough. By telling kids they can do no wrong, that it’s not their, “Sweetheart, the reason you got a bad grade is because your teacher is just inexperienced.” Okay? “Buddy, I don’t know why you’re sitting on the bench. You’re the best athlete on that team. Your coach, your coach just can’t identify talent.”
And by saving them from consequences. We need to allow our kids to experience some of the pain that goes with poor choices. So, for example, when the school calls and says your kid forgot their lunch, what do parents do? “Oh my gosh! I’ll get it there right away! Because I don’t want my child to starve!” Not just starve, “I don’t want my kid to starve to death!” I know, because they are going to die if they miss their lunch!
Parents, I’ve done a lot of research on death by starvation. And it takes the average person about seventy to ninety days to die from starvation. All right? Now, maybe your kid is going to get a little hungry. And you know what those hunger pains will do? They will travel up into their brain to realize it was their responsibility to bring their lunch, not mom and dad’s. Mom and dad make the lunch, pay for the lunch, the least I could do is take the lunch.
It’s amazing. I coached all my kids until they got into high school with all their different sports. And I had some parents who thought, I’m sure they thought I was the antichrist and they wanted a different coach because I wouldn’t let them carry their kids’ stuff. We’re talking twelve-year-old baseball, that moms would come into the dugout and hang up the bag and get the cleats out and set out. No, no, no, no, no. Hey! Not on my team. It doesn’t happen. Your kid is twelve. He can carry, he can set it up, he can shoot his own steroids. Get out of my dugout, Mrs. Armstrong.
Activating responsibility. And here is the thesis statement: It is helping kids move from infantile dependence to healthy independence. What are some simple ways? You’ve got to assign chores. Make them age appropriate, but kids, when they have chores, it helps them develop responsibilities and it promotes life skills and work ethic and, yes, you could do the job better yourself or hire it out. That’s not the point. You’re trying to help them become responsible.
And, obviously, and I have said it a couple of times, you’ve got to allow consequences that, when you’re always bailing your kid out each time there is dilemma, you are wounding them. They need to experience consequences in order to be healthy. They have to understand there is a relationship between what they do and what happens to them, and that is a good relationship.
I put it in your notes, I love this phase: Consequences build self-esteem. When kids realize that their behavior has consequences, here’s what they learn: I have power and I have control. I don’t always have to be the victim. I can be in control in this situation. I have power over those consequences.
So let me try to make this really practical and, a matter of fact, how discipline and responsibility merge together. So mom, you go out at three thirty in the front yard, Jimmy is skateboarding. You say, “Jimmy, you need to get in and do your geometry homework.” And Jimmy says, “Mom, I don’t want to do my geometry homework! I want to skateboard!” And you say, “Well, Jimmy, if you don’t do your geometry homework, you’re never going to be able to figure out the area within a trapezoid!” And Jimmy says, “I can live with that.” Jimmy can live with that, right? Jimmy can live a very good life without ever figuring out the area within a trapezoid.
I am in my fifties. Nobody has ever, in my whole life, asked me, “Hey, we’ve got a whole bunch of trapezoids back here. Anybody willing to figure out the area within those trapezoids?” At which point I would have said, “Yes!” But nobody has ever done that.
So with that, then you’re going, Well, Doug, there is a natural consequence. And the natural consequence is he will flunk his class. Jimmy doesn’t care. Because Jimmy is going to be a professional skateboarder. So this is when Mom and Dad, or sometimes, those of you who are single parents, I told you this last week, the toughest job on the planet is being a single parent. But this is when Mom and Dad, when there is a natural consequence and it is ineffective, we have got to establish some fair discipline so Jimmy develops responsibility.
“Jimmy, if you flunk that class, you choose to flunk that class, you don’t ride your skateboard until Jesus returns.” Okay? Or whatever it is. Because if not, Jimmy will grow up to be a simpleton.
In Proverbs 27 it says, “A prudent person foresees the danger ahead and takes precaution. The simpleton goes blindly on and suffers the consequences.” Parents, we don’t want to raise simpletons. We want to raise kids with competence and character and conviction and compassion. So responsibility begins to be formed when they are little and you, as a parent, follow through on the consequences connected to the boundaries. Or else, kids don’t learn anything about boundaries.
So those of you with little kids, and you play the counting game, what that means is, get to three. Get to three. That’s okay. And then allow them, calmly, to experience a consequence. Don’t do the, “Don’t let me get to three! One, two, maybe you don’t, you’re not hearing me! Do not let me get to three or there will be a cyclone of fury that comes out of – one, two, two point one, two point six,” you’re figuring areas within a trapezoid. Get to three! All right? Get to three calmly and it may be inconvenient for you, but that is parenting. Okay? Let them experience the consequence.
The goal is not to ruin their life. The goal is to help them develop. Does that make sense? Okay. There’s a lot here. Serious fun, delicate discipline, and activated responsibility. A lot to think about this week, a lot to pray about.
I have a friend who told me, “Doug, when my kids were little, I used to talk to them a lot about God. As they got a little bit older, I started talking to God a lot about my kids.” And I think that’s a great way of saying it.
I know some of you are here and, as a parent, you’re tired and you are wounded and you are worried and you feel inadequate. Whatever it is, I invite you to talk to God about your kids and about everything else.
One of the things that I do when I move into a time of prayer in my home office, I have a chair and I have another chair right in front of it. And sometimes I sit in that chair and I imagine a conversation with God. Just, God is sitting right in that chair.
And I realize for some of you, that raises theological concerns like: Should you have three chairs for Father, Son, the Holy Spirit? Does the Holy Spirit even need a chair or does He hover? Whatever.
For me, I picture God in the flesh as Jesus. The person of Jesus. And He is compelling, He is totally interested in me, He is warm, He is attracted to my heart, He is leaning in, excited to be there and to listening, just communicating this warmth.
And a lot of times, I do most of the talking. But sometimes I just listen. If I don’t have anything to say, I just listen. And I have imaginary conversations and it’s going to seem dumb to you, but here’s one of my imaginary conversations where I see Jesus saying, Doug, you make Me laugh. Sometimes you are really funny.
And I get this sense of pride that, Man, I made God laugh. How cool is that? And then He says, Doug, some of your funniest stuff isn’t even stuff that you say. And I go, I know! I know! But I don’t want to say it because I think it’s too inappropriate! And then Jesus says, Well, it is. That’s not what I’m talking about. Some of the funniest stuff is the stuff that you do. It’s funny, you make Me laugh, that you think you can do Crossfit at your age. You make me laugh when you go to Costco just for free samples. You make Me laugh that you think it’s funny when people fall off their bike.
And so we have this moment of laughter. And then Jesus settles in. And there’s this warmth that radiates that I feel and He says, Doug, I love you so, so much. And I love this time with you. And I want to take our relationship to deeper, deeper places. And I know you think, Doug, that you know how much I love you because you’re a parent and you love your kids and that’s cute. But My love is deeper. See, your love is finite. You have a limit to your love. But My love is infinite. And there is no depth and I take all of that love and I direct it to you. It’s a depth of love that you will never be able to understand.
And then I interrupt Him, Okay, Jesus, are You saying I’m not smart enough? And He laughs, kind of a big laugh. Like I caught Him off guard, which I know I didn’t because He’s God. So He knew what I was going to say. So He is obviously exaggerating to make me feel better about myself.
So that’s how it goes with me in prayer. But I share that with you because when I connect with God through prayer, through spending some time to read about Jesus and what He taught and how He interacted, how God in the flesh modeled how to live for humanity; when I read that He wants to come in and totally transform my character and shape me into His likeness – I am drawn to Him.
And the more I am drawn to Him, the more I fall in love with Him and want to follow Him and be more like Him. And in this series, we have been taking a look at a few words that are so powerful that we want to go deeply into your bones.
Found in Ephesians 5, verse 1, where it says, “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children.” Look at those four words: “As dearly loved children.”
See, when that becomes your identity, everything changes. When that becomes your identity, that you’re a dearly loved child of God, everything changes. For some of us in here, our identity is what we do. Your identity is where you live or what you drive or what is in your bank account. But if you could get your arms around the fact that your identity is you are a dearly loved child of God, everything changes.
See, that’s what helps our parenting. That’s what helps our relationships. I could give you the best parenting tips in the world and I want to be really helpful to you. But if you’re parenting out of a broken identity or a wrong identity or a wounded identity, all my tips are going to fall short. But this is what I want you to get: People who know that they are dearly loved are able to love dearly.
People who know that they are deeply loved, and that is their identity, they are able to love deeply. I want to help your parenting. I do. I really want to help your kids. I want to help your kids be the benefactors of this content that we are talking about. But that’s not what drives me.
What drives me is that if you draw closer to God and you fall more in love with Him and you sense His love for you, it will change everything. Everything about you and your relationships and how you act.
And God is not this distant deity that is out there that needs to be conjured up. He is here loving you, laughing with you, grieving with you, hearing your cries; He is accepting of your faults and your failures. He is wanting you to know Him in deeper ways because He has wisdom to help you in your relationships, specifically in your parenting.