It is no secret that children should obey their parents. Scripture says so:
“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.”
But when children disobey, what should be the response? Do we helplessly sit by, and wring our hands, just hoping that someday our children will magically learn to behave with honor and respect? Or can parents take a direct role in shaping the will and personality of a child, doing our part to mold each child into the likeness of Christ?
In modern Western culture, it is commonly assumed that a child’s will must not be broken, lest we harm the child’s self-esteem. Pop culture indoctrinates us with the assumption that children should be given free-reign to make lots of choices, “express themselves”, and be given numerous opportunities to assert their own individual wills.
As usual, pop culture is diametrically opposed to the teaching of the Orthodox Church.
Scripture says that loving, godly, strict discipline is the ideal method for raising children. A godly father frequently disciplines his children, diligently training the will of each child, raising up children who mirror the godliness of their parents:
1 He who loves his son will whip him often,
so that he may rejoice at the way he turns out.
2 He who disciplines his son will profit by him,
and will boast of him among acquaintances.
3 He who teaches his son will make his enemies envious,
and will glory in him among his friends.
4 When the father dies he will not seem to be dead,
for he has left behind him one like himself,
5 whom in his life he looked upon with joy
and at death, without grief.
6 He has left behind him an avenger against his enemies,
and one to repay the kindness of his friends.
According to Scripture, the will of a stubborn child is like the will of a wild horse, and it needs to be broken:
7 Whoever spoils his son will bind up his wounds,
and will suffer heartache at every cry.
8 An unbroken horse turns out stubborn,
and an unchecked son turns out headstrong.
9 Pamper a child, and he will terrorize you;
play with him, and he will grieve you.
10 Do not laugh with him, or you will have sorrow with him,
and in the end you will gnash your teeth.
11 Give him no freedom in his youth,
and do not ignore his errors.
12 Bow down his neck in his youth,
and beat his sides while he is young,
or else he will become stubborn and disobey you,
and you will have sorrow of soul from him.
13 Discipline your son and make his yoke heavy,
so that you may not be offended by his shamelessness.
The Orthodox Church teaches that strict discipline is good for children. In fact, it is good for all of us. God says that He chastens and disciplines those whom He loves:
5 And you have forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as children—
‘My child, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
or lose heart when you are punished by him;
6 for the Lord disciplines those whom he loves,
and chastises every child whom he accepts.’
7 Endure trials for the sake of discipline. God is treating you as children; for what child is there whom a parent does not discipline? 8 If you do not have that discipline in which all children share, then you are illegitimate and not his children.9 Moreover, we had human parents to discipline us, and we respected them. Should we not be even more willing to be subject to the Father of spirits and live?10 For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share his holiness. 11 Now, discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
For ourselves, and for our children, we have two choices:
1. The temporary pain of discipline, followed by a life that is pleasing to God
2. The temporary pleasures of indulgence, followed by a lifetime of grief and suffering
The choice is yours.