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About this series
Effective Parenting in a Defective World
How to Raise Kids Who Stand Out from the Crowd
Raising children is a tough challenge in today's world. Peers and pop culture exert a never-ending pressure on kids. Parents often feel helpless, as every godly principle they teach their children seems to be contradicted by the corrupt principles of this defective world. But the good news is, God has a plan for effectively raising your children and you can learn from it. Packed with practical advice, this series will give struggling parents a vision for their children's future and life-changing help for today.More from this series
Jot, if you would, 1 John chapter 2, verses 1 and 2. All I want you to do is get this principle. The apostle is writing to this young church. He says, “I have written to you, my dear children, in order that you might not sin. But if you do sin,” knowing they will, “we have an Advocate, Jesus Christ, the Righteous.” We have an Advocate with the Father. “Advocate” just means we have a lawyer. We have someone pleading our case. “We have an Advocate – Jesus Christ, the Righteous. And He is the propitiation for our sin.”
“Propitiation” is one of those really big, biblical words that means: He absorbed the just wrath of God. And then it goes on to say, “But not only for us believers, but for the whole world.”
Now, theologically, there are some people who would say, “I don’t want the free gift. I’ll take the punishment. I don’t want the free gift. I don’t want what Christ has done.” And God says, “Thy will be done.” He doesn’t force it on anyone.
But if you can understand that’s how your heavenly Father deals with you – He doesn’t punish you. He’s not down on you. That has been covered, it has been atoned for.
His heart’s desire, now, the discipline may get more and more and more severe if you don’t listen. And you may have to cause the discipline for your kids to be more and more and more severe until it gets their attention. But it comes from a different heart. Does that make sense?
See, the reason why you have a lot of conflict and you feel bad and you feel guilty and kids withdraw and they rebel is they need to know and feel your love, even when you’re disciplining them, because you’re not punishing them. It’s not, I’m going to pay you back. It’s not out of anger.
Now, then, the sixty-four-thousand-dollar question is: How? Well, what did we learn? How does God do it? Through consistent consequences, actions, and clear instruction. And so I want to go over those two things and give you some very practical tools about how to do that with your kids.
Consistent consequences go something like this: Proverbs 13:24 says, “He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him diligently.” Think of that. If you spare the rod, consistent action, not talk, you hate your child. Why? Because God says, “If you loved him, you would give him what he needs instead of what he wants.”
He goes on to say, “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child.” Every kid is like this. “But the rod of discipline,” action, “will drive it far from him.” Now, I am going to do something, and this will be, can I just go on record really quickly here? Will you please lean back? Take a nice, deep breath. For the next five minutes, I will be as radically politically incorrect of anything you have heard in the last thirty days, maybe more.
I am going to describe what the rod is. I am going to describe what it means when “biblical” spanking, I will give you some research on that when I get done, from psychologists, the American Psychological Association, that will instruct you very clearly about the non-negative impacts when done biblically. But you are living in a world where many of your kids do not obey and you have arguments and it’s time out and there’s this and there’s that. And God has provided a way, especially if you start young, to help your children obey and learn obedience that gets down into their soul that is very helpful.
Now, you can totally choose to say, That’s not a practice that will be good for me. All I am saying is we are so afraid to talk about this, we have parents out on islands, struggling with their children, and by and large, creating huge psychological damage because of the yelling and the screaming and all the things that happened that your kids aren’t getting.
So I am going to tell you what the biblical rod or spanking looks like. You evaluate. You can hear the research. Then you can do whatever God leads you to do.
Number one, whenever you feel like this is important, you give them a clear warning. A child should never be pulled out of a booth and you never use your hand, by the way. It should never be, When is this coming? And my Nazi, crazy parent, out of the blue, is blowing up in anger. They need to know, and by the way, those small, little windows – this isn’t for every little offense.
This is when you draw a line in the sand and your son or your daughter steps up and goes, “No. I’m not doing that.” And, by the way, it starts early.
So there are times when it’s really clear. Do not, do not do this. There has been a clear warning. And you’re concerned because you know if they do it, they’ll get hurt, there’s great damage. And you say, “If that happens again, I want you to know,” when they’re really testing who is the boss, “that this is going to be the consequence.” There is a clear warning.
Second, you establish responsibility. So I’ll give you a real life example. I have many of them, but this is just one. My kids were in that five to six, seven age group, they had friends, the parents were about three doors down, the son was at our house all the time. This is not an exaggeration, he had been through three or four marriages. She had been through three. They had both alcohol and drug problems.
They had a mixed group, which I really understood, of all different ages. They older boys had people over, drugs, alcohol, violence. And I told my little boys, “Michael can come over here anytime. He can be a part of our family, he can eat. You,” parents are gone all during the day, “can never go in that house.”
We made friends, we actually, the mom and dad both came to Christ about three years later. But it was just like, the bar is like this and this is like this. And everything went on.
And so, of course, I don’t know how God works this. We are driving by and I watched my kids come out of the house. And so, clear warning, “Okay, look, do you understand? If I catch you going over to that house again, you will get a spanking.” Eye contact. “Do you get that?” “Yes.”
Well, you know. Two days later, same thing, they do it. So here’s, I did not, when I caught them the second time, they know what is going to happen, they’re going to get a spanking. Of course, am I angry? Yes. But I get under control. I did not ask them, “Why did you do that?”
Do you ever hear yourself saying, “Why did you do that? Why did you go with those friends? Why did you do that? I told you not to! Why did you go to that movie? Why did you spend that money? Why did you take the car without permission? Why, why, why?” I’ll tell you why. Because they are sinners! Like you!
Why do you mess up? Why do you do stupid stuff? Why do you lie? Because you’re a sinner! That doesn’t help anything. If you want to shame them, “Why, why, why, what’s wrong with you?” What are you expecting your seven-year-old to say? “Well, I was born in Adam and I think I’ve inherited sin. And I have not yet understood the propitiation of Christ and I’m really not up on the sanctification process, and because of that, I’m not renewing my mind at the level that allows me to…” Are you kidding me?
But here’s the important part: “What did you do wrong?” “Well, I just, the other kids were doing it and I just…” “No, no, no, no. What did you do wrong?” “Well, I didn’t mean to do it and it was Jason! He wanted to go and I wanted to…” “Stop. What did you do wrong?” “I went in the house; you told me not to.” “What do we call that?” “Disobedience.”
Your kids have got to own it. I see parents doing all this stuff. The kid does this, the kid, “Go tell them you’re sorry.” About what? “I’m sorry. I guess it’s over.” What you want to do is you want to teach: what did they do wrong?
Third, avoid embarrassment. Don’t ever do this publicly. Don’t do it out in the living room. This is a private moment, either in your bedroom, their bedroom, away from the crowd.
Four, communicate grief. See, this is why I wanted to teach you the theology of discipline instead of punishment. In other words, you’re not an out of control parent.
Now, many times, I have told my kids, “You can’t believe how angry I am right now. But here’s the core of my anger. I feel so betrayed. I love you. I trust you. We hang out. We do all kinds of things. When I tell you something and you tell me something, I’m your dad. I’m for you.” And you know what? It’s not all bad, in fact, it’s not bad at all. But if they see you well up or see a tear in your eye, “You broke my heart.”
Sin is not primarily about behavior, people. Sin is not, and your kids’ outcomes are not: they do this, they don’t do that, they do this, they’ll come out okay. Sin is always primarily a relational issue. You want them to learn: they betrayed your trust. They broke your heart.
Because what you want them to learn later, and what you need to understand, when you lie and when you cheat and when you log on or when you are tempted to do things, this isn’t about, How close can I get to some line? You’re breaking your Father’s heart. You betray your Father, the One who loves you, the One who sent His Son, the One who has your best.
And so, you want to communicate genuine grief, because you want it to be a relational issue.
And then I brought my little, from about, you have to choose, but somewhere around two or three or somewhere they get old enough where they, “No,” and they draw a line in the sand. And you never, you know what this is for? Loving, touching, caring, praying, and nurturing.
This never, ever strikes your child anywhere on their body, for any reason. “Well, I have to do it right now…” No you don’t. This is a rod. It’s a little, wooden spoon. It’s extraordinarily effective. And I want to show you how to do it. I’m not joking with you.
Because I have seen people, they get angry. You don’t do that. Every human being, especially children, have something here. It’s called adipose tissue. It’s a fancy way for saying, “fat.” Here’s your goal. You flick the wrist. Whoo. Whoo. This will produce an amazing level of sting. It does absolutely no damage. You want it to hurt.
It produces in kids, up through about, depending on their size and ability, up through about ten years old or somewhere in there, it produces a level of, “Oh, I never want that to happen again!” Which is what you want! And it’s immediate.
And then you want them to experience sincere repentance. The earlier you start, the better. And so when my kids were four or five and even older, we would go through this process and they are crying now.
And I would usually sit on the floor and I would have them on my lap and I’d just let them cry. I want them to cry. I want them to know, “I’m here. My arm is around you. You did what was wrong, you owned up to it, this is what happens. I’m for you.” I don’t know about you, I have cried in God’s presence. I have cried in God’s presence when I have done really stupid, or sinful things.
David cried in God’s presence. And then they cried for a while and then they get calmed down. And then sincere repentance. I said, “Well, are you ready to talk to God?” And when they were small, I coached them so they learned how. “Yeah, Daddy, yeah, I’m ready.” “So what do you say to God?” “I’m a bad person.” “No, you’re not a bad person, son. You’re not a bad person. You’re special. God loves you. What did you do?” “I went in the house when you told me not to!” “Okay. Why don’t you tell God?” “God, I’m sorry for going in the house when Daddy told me not to! I disobeyed!” “Okay. Why don’t you tell Him you’re sorry?” “I’m sorry, God!” “Is there someone else you need to apologize to?” “Uhhhh, you?” “Yeah, that’s right. Okay.” “I’m sorry, Dad.” “Aw, honey, I forgive you.”
And I put my arms around them and I teach them, “Lord, I thank You that whenever we break Your heart by doing what is wrong, that like it’s a mark on a chalkboard, and the moment we come, from our hearts, and ask You to forgive us, You absolutely erase it and love us. Amen.”
And then we would get up together and I usually tried to do something very positive, “Let’s go play Horse.” I want them to know, You’re not rejected. That’s biblical spanking. That’s the rod.
But what has happened in our day, I’ve got an interesting article by a psychologist in Chicago. And it’s called, The Killer Narcissist. And I won’t read it. But the essence of the article is: Why do we have wanton killings in schools? And the politically correct answer is: Because of these desperate, underprivileged homes and all the difficult things they are going through. And then what she does is she goes, “Well, actually, if you look at Littleton, if you look at what happened in Pennsylvania,” and she goes through all the different ones and none of them fit the profile.
It’s upwardly mobile, white suburbs, largely, of affluent kids whose parents have given them everything. And she says, “What happens is the movement of a narcissist to a radical killer is very small in the teenage years. And when you raise kids who think the whole world revolves around them, and they don’t get their way, they feel very hurt, because they don’t get the esteem, the entitlement, and, ‘life works for me,’ and it creates rage.”
And all the kids she goes through have parents who are educated, gave them everything. We are producing narcissists. Every kid doesn’t need a trophy. Every kid doesn’t need to know that the whole world revolves around them. We don’t go out to eat where our kids want. We don’t make decisions around all our kids all the time.
What you create is an expectation that the world revolves around them, and they are going to find out the world doesn’t. And when they do, really bad things happen. It’s a complete lack of discipline. But it takes being a jerk, sometimes.
And what I can tell you is, when you start very early, this is one, now, if a time out works, great. If this works, great. But this is a biblical way to help your children. And here’s the difference. The difference is is when it’s done, it’s done.
It’s not thirty minutes, “I told you to stand up! I told you to sit down! Okay! A ten-minute time out! You’re grounded for three days! Five days! You’re grounded until Jesus comes!”
And then I hang out in coffee shops and a couple high schoolers come in after school in backpacks and they’ve got the earphones. “Hey, how’s it going, man?” “It’s going pretty good. What’s going on with you?” “Oh, man, I’m grounded. Oh, yeah.” “Oh, bummer, man. This is coming up how long?” “Ah, they say two weeks, but I figure three days.”
Your kids are really good students of you. “Oh, Mom, the prom is coming up. I’m going to miss this. How could you do that? Don’t you trust me? You’re being so hard on me. You don’t really get it. All my other friends, and they go to church, and their parents let them do this. Nah, nah, nah, nah.”
And we have a generation of non-jerk parents and you keep the peace. And you will feel the pain. And God says, “I love you too much, and I want you to love your kids too much to let that happen.”
A lady wrote me, and I don’t know whether it was small group material or the book. She goes, “I recently shied away from spanking, even though every other discipline for my seven-year-old has not worked. I have been exhausted with the confrontations and the drama associated with even the minor things in life. This message was the kick in the pants I needed to do what is right before God. Thank you. This morning his attitude was the same as normal, we had fights, he wouldn’t do his schoolwork, he was argumentative, disrespectful, and disobedient.
“He is clearly challenging my authority. So I breathed a helpful prayer, I asked him to come upstairs away from the little brother, I picked up the spoon along the way. Anyhow, the bottom line, no pun intended, two quick stings later, he was sobbing and repentant in my arms, and apologizing. I held him and then he said this: ‘Mama, I am sure glad they make wooden spoons.’
“The rest of the day has been peaceful, we prayed together, no arguments, no disobedience. Thanks for the reminder that I need the courage to discipline.”
See, your kids, their conscience needs to be cleansed. Your kids need to have a clean moment of – if it’s ongoing, you’re shaming them. Now, I’m not saying that everyone should do this, and it’s not for everyone. I’m expecting there is a level of common sense in this room.
But you need to figure out, when they challenge your authority and they cross the line, you need to really think about what you need to do and, if possibly these verses and Proverbs may be as true as all the other verses and Proverbs that we claim. But these just happen to be unpopular.
Well, actions are one thing, but then words. Clear instructions or reproof. I gave you those two, little Hebrew words out of Proverbs and the second one had to do with very specific words. And so, four ways to use words to bring about correction.
And, by the way, we always start with words. Just clarification, I rarely spanked my kids. I rarely had to. But if that is a clear expectation and they know that when you say this or say that you actually mean it, a lot of times it’s, “Son,” and he looks at you, “it’s time to go.” All it takes is, “Eric?” You know what that means? Consequences are coming. Bam, he gets up. But if there is never a line, your words don’t mean much.
So number one: Say “no” firmly. Say “no” firmly. Here’s what I see happen. And, by the way, everything I am going to share, all these illustrations, Oh, I do that, I can’t believe I…well, where do you think I get them? This is our failure as parents over the years, okay?
And so this is like, and I’ll exaggerate just to make the quick point. Your daughter says, “Can I do a sleepover with these three girls? And we are going to watch this movie, and I think it’s really going to be great and their parents are going to be home and everything is going to be okay.”
And immediately the three girls just got out of juvie, it’s a triple X rated movie, the houses aren’t there, and both parents are drug addicts. Okay, am I exaggerating enough? And inside you’re thinking, Absolutely not! Right? Inside, No way. And here is your response, “Oh, honey, I don’t know. That doesn’t really sound like a good…”
And what do they hear? There’s a window. Right? “Come on, mom! Don’t you really trust me? Everyone is going to, I never get to do anything! I love Jesus and maybe this is my chance to really help them! Come on, mom!”
And then it’s like, “Well, honey, no, no. I just really don’t think so.” Your words are saying one thing, what is your tone of voice saying? There’s a window! So now it’s, “I can’t believe it! You don’t trust me at all. I can never do anything!” Slam the door. And now you’ve got drama.
Say what you mean, say it clearly, say it firmly. And if you don’t mean it, then don’t say it. So, same situation, she says that, or you fill it in. And you stop and if you’re not sure, you say, “Ooh, you know what? I need to pray about that,” and if you’re not a single parent you say, “I need to talk with your father. This is a big decision. I’ll let you know later.”
But if it’s an absolute one, what you say is, “Did I hear you right? Absolutely not.” “But, mom!” And then you give them this look, if you haven’t worked on this, this means, Oh, you are on dangerous ground. This is the look. “But, mom!” And you go…and you know what that look means? There is no more discussion. And you know what? They accept it. Say “no” firmly.
You know, are you – you ever go over to a friend’s house or they come to your house and the kids really like each other and they’re really having fun, and so they’re like running around and going nuts and going crazy. And you do stuff like this because you’re with your friends and, “Hey, hey, hey, hey! Kids, kids, kids. Stop running through here. Stop running through here.” You don’t mean it at all. So they run out, run out.
And, “Hey, how are things going?” Zoom! Zoom! They come through again, toys are coming off, “Hey! Hey! I told you guys. Slow down! Stop in here! Do not run through the living room while we’re talking.” You don’t mean it at all.
Three minutes later, bzzzz, here they come again, right? And then pretty soon, like, the number four time, you do something like this that embarrasses you in front of your friends like, “Hey! What in the blank did I say? I said stop right now!” And then you realize, Oh my, I am embarrassing myself and this is not really a good moment.
See, say what you mean. If you don’t, “Hey! Stop. I know you guys haven’t seen each other and you really like each other. You can go outside right now, run all you want. Okay? Listen. If you run through here again, seven-minute time out.”
And then, eye contact, “Do you understand?” Now, what are they going to do? They are going to run through one more time, correct? So your game face comes on and, whoom! here they go. “Stop!” And, hey, it takes time. You sit them down, and hopefully the seven-minute works. Say “no” firmly.
Second, clear warning of consequences. I tried to model that. Let them know. Kids are kids. Let them be kids! But warn them. “This is going to happen if you don’t do this or that.” Right? Give them a clear warning. And get their, don’t make a clear warning, “Hey, if you do that again, you’re going to be in trouble.” No. Stop them. Look them in the eye.
Third, use contracts.
You know, they don’t do their chores or they are disrespectful, they won’t do their homework, they are hanging out with the wrong people. They beat up their brother or sister. Right? It’s like they’re not responsible, they won’t do this. I mean, there are only four or five major things that any kid messes up with.
And what happens, you get into these wars all the time. Stop the wars. When you’re not upset, when it’s not – they haven’t done something wrong, it’s like, you have a good time. Maybe it’s after a meal, you go out for a Coke, whatever you do. And then you come and you say, “You know something, we have been battling one another. I love you too much.”
I remember sitting down doing this. “This is just no fun. I mean, I love you. You’re so fun to be around. But we keep arguing about: you don’t do your schoolwork,” or my one son, “You just keep beating up your brother every time we leave and the hole in the wall just was not really good.” True story.
And so, I said, “Okay, let’s just list the things that are a problem on the left side.” And then, you know, “I have tried everything. It’s not working. So, here’s a column that says, ‘Consequences that are negative.’ You tell me if you do this, what negative consequence would really help you obey? What would help you learn? And then, by the way, here’s the next column. Positive consequence. Like, if you really obeyed in that area for ‘x’ amount of time, what would be a good perk? I mean, what would just say, ‘Hey, man, that’s worth…’ Okay?”
And we just went through the four or five things and I had him write it down. And I remember he said, “If I was, like, grounded from basketball practice for two days.” Okay, “We’ll write that one down.” Well, of course, now, by the way, anytime you do this, they test it. You know why? They’re like you. It’s like Adam and Eve. “Do not do this.” “Okay.” Right? It’s part of the human condition.
And so, of course, he wrote them down and I wrote them down and it’s a contract. He does it.
He’s going to miss basketball practice and then he’s, “Dad! You can’t do this to me! I worked all summer! I lifted weights, I practiced, I finally made the first team, I’m going to start next Friday night! If I miss these two practices, I won’t start! How could you do this to me?”
Now, I’m very calm. I said, “Oh, son, this is not – I’m not doing anything. This, the contract that we made, and I signed it here and you signed it there, and you know something? I am so bummed out. I was so forward looking to your start. I watched your hard work and, boy, I am so sad, but this is, this is your contract. You get to own your responsibility.”
Do you see the difference? See, get out of this arguing and drama and I had a lady come up with three boys. “I have the most wonderful boys but,” she gave me her top three problems. They are the top three or four of everyone. Sit down, write a contract with them. And they were, like, teenagers and one younger one. And they kind of looked, “Yeah, we’d do that.” But just sit down and use a contract.
Finally, use consequences. I’ll have, now and then, have someone say, “You can’t believe it! My daughter is completely out of control. She doesn’t come in at night, she is drinking, I know there’s marijuana we found. She is dating a boy that is totally outside the bounds. She is fifteen years old! We don’t know what to do. We have been to counseling. I am powerless! What do I do?” And I’m not the greatest counselor at all and that’s why I don’t do much of it. And you all think I’m joking. I’m not. But here’s my response, I said, “Oh, wow, you’re powerless?” “Yes! What can I do?” I said, “Well, like, does she drive at all?” “Well, yeah!” So, fifteen, sixteen, so she – did she buy the car?” “No, it’s ours.” “Oh. Well, who pays for the gas?” “Well, we do.” “Who pays for the insurance?” “Well, we do.” “Oh. Wow. Does she have a phone?” “Yeah.” “Who pays for that?” “We do.”
“Oh.” And I just went through and I started asking them questions. “So, you’re powerless? Does she have an outside job to eat food in your house? And does she rent the room?” “No.” I said, “Excuse me, you hold all the cards. And eliminate the drama. Here are one or two very clear boundaries. The next time this happens, by the way, in fact, the car is gone, this is gone, we’ll start with this one,” and you just begin to – the velvet vise of love.
And you be the parent. And, now, by the way, I got to the point with one of my sons where I did all that, because some of you are thinking, Well, they might just opt out. I got where seventeen and a half years old, tears down my face and tears down his face. “I wish you weren’t a Christian dad and I don’t,” no rules. “You can’t tell me anything.” I said, and don’t do this unless you’ve prayed it through, gotten good counsel from a counselor and probably a pastor and thought through. But you have tried everything.
And I remember sitting in front of the car, in front of my house, said, “You’re destroying our marriage, you are destroying our home, you’re seventeen and a half years old, if you’re man enough now to get a job, find a place to live, and figure out what you’re going to do for food, then I can’t teach you. So, you’ve got forty-eight hours. You can either come, you don’t have to believe anything I believe, but I will tell you this, either you come and have a good attitude and stop ruining our family, or you find a place to live.”
And I wasn’t bluffing, and he knew it. And I was crying. And later he came back and he said, “You know, Dad, it wasn’t all the discipline.” He said, “When you and Mom cried, I realized how precious and real Jesus is to you. I went into my bedroom for forty-eight hours, realized a lot of it was just my pure rebellion. And part of it was you pushed my buttons, Dad, and I pushed yours.”
But he said, “God really spoke to me.” He came out of the room, and I was just, I was waiting for the second shoe to drop. He was a manipulator. And it seems like rebellious kids are very smart. And then we watched a complete change. I want to give parents hope here. God can do anything.
Two of the three songs we sang, this kid wrote them and they are sung all over the world. My prayer wasn’t, my prayer wasn’t that he write songs. My prayer was, “Oh, God, keep him out of the ditch. Oh God, help him not do something so stupid that he is going to ruin the rest of his life.”
But all I can do is set a boundary over here and say, “You know what? In our house, you can’t treat people that way. And over here, no matter what you do, I’m going to love you.” And is it hard? It’s excruciatingly hard.
“All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful. But after they have been trained by it, it yields a peaceful fruit of righteousness.”
On the back page, I have given you a game plan. It’s pretty self-explanatory.
Here are some pitfalls to avoid. We have all done these, right? The screaming parent; the all-talk, you have a good talk or a nagging, nagging, nagging that’s not working. I just put this, “abusive parent.” If you’re striking your child or you’re out of control, get help.
The closed-lipped parent is just the passivity of you just think this is going to go away. When you don’t address stuff, your kid’s heart is telling him you don’t care. And then finally, the lightbulb parent is you’re totally inconsistent. This really, really matters on Monday, and on Friday you don’t care.
The game plan is just simple. Identify the top two behavior problems. Don’t try and tackle everything. Just what are the top one or two things that are just making you crazy and making your kid crazy? And then honestly evaluate.
Go back to the first page and ask yourself honestly which one of those, Where do I lean? Where do I need to address some issues? Many times, when my kids were disobeying, what I realized was, I wanted to blame them. The problem was me. I was inconsistent. I wasn’t avoiding some of those pitfalls.
And then, third, have a family conference. You sit down and often you start it with, “You know something? I have not been the dad I needed to be.” Either inconsistent or I didn’t do this. “But I want you to know, here are the top two issues, here is the plan, here are the consequences, I love you. This is how we are going to move forward. And then strap it on, they will test you, and you need to win. And then, finally, sit down and set some goals together and ask God to work in a powerful way. He will. There is hope.