We have said that you need to parent with love and with limits. Imagine it’s the highway of parenting and guardrail on this side is love, guardrail on this side is limits. Really practically, how do you do this? And what I’m going to do is I’m just going to give you a real overview. This is the big picture, and inside of each of these things I’m going to talk about, that’s what we covered in Effective Parenting.
But this will give you the picture of where to go. You ready? Actions and words. Actions: consistent consequences in Proverbs 13:24 and Proverbs 22:15, they just make very strong statements about this. You need to act. You need to understand that it talks about the rod of discipline. You need to have certain actions that negatively reward bad behavior and you need to have certain actions that positively reward good behavior. Okay?
So, he says there’s an issue with actions. So, let’s talk about actions when your kids are small, action when your kids are preteens to early teens, and actions when they are teenagers. The issue with small children is obedience. It’s submission to your word.
Obedience is being under the hearing of a parent.
And that’s your goal. From little on, when they are a small child, the number one goal: you just want your kids to learn to obey your voice.
You can teach a kid that when you scream and you’re out of control, they better act or something is going to happen or you can teach them, “Mary!” and if necessary walk over, make eye contact, look them in the eye, “We are going to leave in about one minute. Right now, pick up the toys. Do you understand?” And Mary responds in about the next five seconds or Mary has an experience that is unpleasant, knowing that Mom or Dad really mean it.
And so, with small kids, the issue is obedience. Say no firmly. That’s the action.
With preteens, the issue is responsibility. You want to feed your kids responsibility. You want them to be, learn to be responsible for their attitudes and their actions. This has to do with chores, cleaning their room, school, their tongue, how they speak, a respect for authority, and their attitude.
And this is, every kid needs to learn to be responsible. That’s, at the end of the day, that’s what maturity is. Maturity isn’t an age issue. There are thirty-year-old guys living in the back of bedrooms that still aren’t responsible for their own laundry, paying their own bills, paying their own insurance. Why? Because their parents didn’t teach them that. You go into training early and you want them to be responsible. “This is your bed; you make your bed.”
We have frazzled parents holding down a job here, running from here to there, then you cook and you fold the laundry and you do the bed and you clean up the house while the kids are going, “Mom, you done with that yet? I’ve got the video game going. Hey, you’ve got that going?”
They can set the table at five and six. They need to help you. They need to get up on a stool and learn how to cook basic things. By the time they are ten, eleven, and twelve, they can learn how to put a load of clothes in the laundry. Yes, they’ll mess it up some. Perfectionistic, everything-has-got-to-be-perfect parents like myself, alright? But either you keep doing it or you teach them.
I mean, when all my kids got close to junior high, they got an alarm clock. Guess what they can learn to do: be responsible to get up. The mornings in some homes are just chaos everyday: “Get up! It’s time to get up! I’ve only, I’m not going to call you how many times!” Yes, you do. You keep calling them seven times, they’ll get up seven times. They get an alarm clock and then there are consequences.
Now, this sounds really terrible. I guess you don’t go to school today. “But I have a test!” It’s going to be a rough day, I guess. You think they’re going to have an employer someday that’s going to go, “Oh, did you sleep in? I’m so sorry. Everything is going to be okay.” When are they going to learn to be responsible? All my kids have told me one of the greatest things that have happened in their life is they have a great work ethic and they are responsible. You don’t even have to be smart in our world today if you’re responsible, because you can’t find responsible people. You teach that with consequences.
The third is when they are teenagers, the issue is choices. You want them to become self-disciplined and you want them to make wise choices – wise choices about friends, about money, about time, about clothes, about music, about movies, about priorities, about their phone, about video games, about YouTube, about Facebook.
And in this one you use contracts. And so, you have actions and attitudes and the issues with kids are not that many, right? They pick on each other and fight, that’s a good one. They don’t do their homework, that’s a good one. They talk back and are disrespectful, that’s a good one. They hang around with some kids that you tell them, “Those are bad news. We don’t hang around with them,” right?
You tell them, “Here is the parameter of what is good and clean and what we are going to watch and here’s what’s not,” right? And they are kids, they are like us, did we not break all those? I did! Some of you didn’t. But, you’re amazing. But most of your kids will.
So, it’s not like, “Oh! What am I going to do?” It’s like, “Okay, here are the behaviors,” and they are different with different kids. When these things happen, here are the consequences.
And this is where you’ve got to get on the same page. And one of you, it’s not always the man, one of you will be the: “We are going to be consistent,” and other is going to be mercy, mercy, mercy. Blend those babies together; hear from God, okay?
Do you get the principle? This isn’t that complicated. Two guardrails. Limits: this is what I do. Love: this is what I say.
Okay, words. Clear instructions. Proverbs 1:8 and 2:1 to 2 talks about, “Listen, my son, to your father’s instructions and do not forsake your mothers teaching. My son, if you accept my words, store up my commandments within you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding.”
It goes on to say, “My son, do not forget my teaching, but keep my commandments in your heart,” do you get it? “Accept my words, my commands, my teaching, my instruction. My son, keep my words and store my commandments within you. Keep my commands and you will live. Guard my teachings as the apple of your eye.” Do you get the idea that instruction is really important?
So, instruction when they are small, very importantly, needs to be about the who. They are just small, okay? Two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, right? They are just small. Who is God? What is He like? They need to know early on, their mind is just absorbing this word God. They need to hear that He is good and that He is loving and that He is kind and He is powerful and that He is all-wise and He is sovereign.
And you don’t hear. And the way you do that, the “how” is you tell them those Old Testament stories and from as early on and you find the easiest to read little Bibles with pictures in them and at bed time, it’s sacred. And you, and then, after the Old Testament stories, it’s the stories about Jesus. And all they are getting is the “who” and, “This is how Jesus feels about people with leprosy and here’s how Jesus feels about people like this lady that made all these really bad mistakes and here’s how Jesus feels about…”
So, it’s all about, in the early years: who, who, who. Who is God? And there are lots of resources to do that.
When they hit the preteens, you want to focus on the “what” of your instruction. What is right? What is wrong? It’s biblical content. You need them to understand: Matthew, Mark, Luke, these three gospels go together and they tell the story of Jesus. John wrote later. He is talking about those who believe. Here’s Acts and here is the story of the Early Church. When Paul was doing these things, he wrote these letters. These letters tell the people in these churches about this Jesus. All of these things have to do with, oh, God’s great plan as it started back here in the Old Testament. This is what it means – salvation – this is what the truth of God’s Word says. And you teach them the basic doctrines.
As they become teenagers, you move from the “who” and the “what” to the “why.” The content is how to think, a worldview, apologetic, skills, dig in on their own, life application.
You want them to make wise decisions about money and about friends and about sex and about God’s will and about God’s service. Unapologetically, when my kids were teenagers, at times, I bribed them to read certain books. And ten bucks was a lot of money back then and so, “James Sire’s book on worldviews, I’ll give you ten bucks to read that; we’ll discuss it later.” “C.S. Lewis’ book on Mere Christianity.” We read books. I wanted them to be able to think.
We didn’t have family devotions every night, sitting around the table where I opened the Bible. I opened it a couple times a week and it was brief and short and applicational. And what I wanted more than that is I wanted all my kids, at an early age, to learn to meet with God on their own.
And so, teaching them how to meet with God, by the time a lot of my kids were ten, eleven years old, they had their own quiet time, because they saw their mom and dad doing that.
And so, our supper table was a lot more, “What are you learning? What is God showing you? What is going on?” And so, we’d have these discussions. “What happened in school?” Our supper table was evolution, worldview, cults. I wanted my kids, while they lived there, to learn the: Who is God? What is true, and why? And then let’s wrestle with that.
And so, do you start to understand, as a parent, this is a full-time job? This is like it takes a lot of focus.
Let me give you some practical tips just in terms of playing this out that will get you going.
Number one is: have a few clear responsibilities/rules. Don’t have a lot of rules. Have a few. And then we keep these.
So, if you really don’t care, then don’t have a rule. Let them do what they want. Any time you can say “yes,” it’s a good answer. But when you know you need to say “no,” say it firmly. This is not a good answer, “Can I do this, this, this?” And it’s like, “Go with these friends that aren’t good friends to watch this movie that’s a bad movie, over to this house where the parents aren’t home.” And here’s how some of us have answered, “Oh, honey, you know, I don’t know.” You know what that says to a kid? There’s room. I’m going to push in on this one. “Well, how come, Mom?”
Here’s the good answer. “Can I do this?” “No.” “What do you mean?” “No.” “Hold. Wait.” Third time, “What part of ‘no’ don’t you understand? We have talked about those kids, we have talked about that movie, and I’ve told you you can never go to that house when their parents aren’t there.” Bam.
Just have a few. And if it doesn’t matter then, “Hey, it sounds good.” I always wanted to be fun and positive on the one side and then very firm and clear on the few things.
Two: develop written contracts. You’ll have to change them every six months or so, but develop written contracts as they get older.
Third: negotiate consequences. This is what I talked about. Let your kids come up with: “If I don’t do my homework, this happens. If I don’t do my chores, this happens. If I pick on my brother or sister, this happens. If I talk back or if I have an attitude, this happens.” And just sit down with them, not when you’re having a problem, but when you’re both clothed and dressed and in your right mind and you’re having some fun, “Let’s sit down together and just walk through these.”
And don’t have a contract that has seventeen things. What are the top three or four things that are behavior issues? And just address those.
Number four: be consistent. This is hard. If you are consistent, your kids will feel secure.
Number five: the older they get, the fewer the rules. You want to feed them responsibility, feed them responsibility, and dare I say, trust them.
The older your kids get, you need to tell them things like, “You know what? What do you think about that movie?” If it’s just a little bit iffy or there’s a situation and you’re not quite sure, often I would say, “Hey, why don’t you pray for twenty-four or forty-eight hours and ask God what you think you ought to do and let’s come back and talk about it.”
See, what I wanted to get out of was, my lands, one year from now they’re going to be on a college campus someplace or they’re going to be out with some friends. If they don’t start making decisions at late-sixteen, seventeen, eighteen in my house, so what, a magic button is going to get pushed? I wanted to throw it into their lap and say, “Okay, what do you think God wants you to do?” “Oh, gosh, Dad. Why don’t you just tell me: right or wrong?” “Because this is your decision.”
Now, if it was one that I knew – devastating consequences – they might pray about it and I always had veto power. But, okay, there are a good handful of times where I thought, “Son, I am not really sure that’s a very good decision and I’m pretty concerned. But it’s yours.” And then here was the statement, “Here’s what I want you to know. I believe in you. I know that you wouldn’t do anything that would embarrass God, that would hurt you or another person, or dishonor the Ingram name.
And you know what? When you tell them you trust them, it’s like putting a chain around their neck. “Oh, gosh.” But if it’s: I’m going to check up on you and I’m going to call and I’m going to do this and I’m going to do this.” Well, just the opposite will often happen.
Finally, train them to be on their own. Train them to be on their own. When we were parents in the early days, we were very poor. Seminary, we often, we lived on under a thousand dollars a month with three kids, lived in government-subsidized housing, and things were tight. We were pulling quarters out of the backseat and I did all kinds of little odd jobs to work full-time. I thought my wife should be home with our kids. And so, it was a crazy time, but what my kids saw early on was they saw God provide, because we didn’t have any money.
Well, by the time Annie, she’s thirteen years younger, by the time she got to be a teenager, we had some disposable income. And my kids learned responsibility. You know that old, “I want Michael,” back in those days, remember? “I want Michael Jordan,” it wasn’t LeBron. “I want Michael Jordan tennis shoes.”
But I said, “Great! I’ve got forty-five dollars that I can spend on tennis shoes. And if you want Michael Jordans, great! Just save up your money and we’ll go down and I’ll give my forty-five and you put in fifty-five and they’re all yours, babe!”
And it’s amazing, they saved up and did that about once. And all of a sudden, they weren’t that cool. But with Annie, what I realized is that because, one, she was compliant. She watched her brothers and she thought, You know what? I think I’m going to be an obedient child. And she had a lot of her mom’s personality. Like, do your homework early, get things done, very unlike me and the boys.
And so, all of a sudden I realized she’s fifteen, sixteen in the middle of high school and we would be in the mall, “Dad, can I have that?” And she rarely asked for anything and she’s my daughter. But daughters are different. “Oh, sure, honey!” So, I’d buy that for her and a little something here. And she really wasn’t. She didn’t spend a lot of money
I remember one day Theresa and I were talking and I said, “Honey, we are blowing it.” “We” as in me but when you really blow it you want to get your wife involved too. “We are blowing it!”
And I said, “We have taught all the boys – man, they cooked, they did their laundry, responsibility.” So, I said, “We need to come up with a new plan.” And I said, “I want you to figure out every dollar we spend on Annie per month. Clothes, makeup, whatever you, all the women stuff and schools,” and we came up with a number. And then we had a meeting with Annie. And I said, “Annie, first of all, I need to apologize as your dad. I really have not done for you what I did for your brothers. And here’s why and it’s because you have great character,” and on and on. “But I have really blown it. And you haven’t learned to be responsible. So, here’s what we are going to do. And this much money we are going to give you the first of every month for everything. That’s clothes, camps, everything. So, I’ll pay twenty-five percent of ski camp.”
The ski camps and stuff when you’ve got a teenager, right? It’s like three hundred, four hundred bucks. It’s crazy stuff. And so, it was like, she is going to have to figure out from babysitting and this, toothbrush, everything she would pay for. Lunches, eating out, everything.
And it was amazing. And so, I remember walking through the mall and she just said, “Hey, Dad, those are, you know what? I need a new pair of jeans.” I said, “Well, great, if you feel like it’s in your budget, just go ahead.” And the designer ones, “Dad, can you believe?” She never looked at this before. “Ninety-five dollars for a pair of jeans? Are you kidding me? And I can go to the outlet place and I can get them for…” She didn’t think like that before.
And, anyway, I watched her in about a year and a half learn to really handle her money, make great decisions, have her own checkbook, and learn how to live her life.
Final things here is, by way of overview, is just identify, develop a game plan, identify the top parenting or child needs in your world. Just, what is it, right? What do we need to address? And what are the behaviors or the patterns?
Second is: honestly evaluate your parenting style. Between being too permissive or being too authoritarian, which are you?
And then the third: develop a time where you sit down with your family and have a conference and just address these things.