I don’t beat my kids. I rarely even spank them. But the idea behind the phrase “beat the Devil out of a child” deserves some thought. (Note: I don’t mean to put down parents who do use corporal punishment; each child is different and what works for one may not work for another. I think my kids sometimes wished we would just spank them a few times instead of blocking texting, taking away tv/internet/video games, limiting time with friends, assigning tasks and other such things.)
I am a father. I’d like to think I’m a good father. And I find myself in a situation (along with every other parent) where my kids do not simply choose to do the right thing. It doesn’t matter if I lecture them about wise, ethical, or empathetic behavior. Modeling wise, ethical, or empathetic behavior does not seem to have much of an impact either. If it seems fun, exciting, pleasurable, or just not as much work in the moment that is the thing they want to do. It doesn’t matter if it hurts them in the long run. It doesn’t matter if it hurts others as long as (in their minds) it benefits them more than the guilt hurts. They are inherently selfish and short-sighted. Any honest parent will tell you that kids are generally that way.
So how do I, as a loving parent, respond to my children’s selfish and short-sighted behavior? With discipline. Now, don’t get me wrong I do educate my children by direct instruction, modeling, allowing them to learn from experience, and even VR training (“how would you feel if…”). But we are broken people, myself and my children. Simply knowing what is good will not lead us to doing good. Hence the need for consequences that are more immediate, onerous in the present, and hopefully memorable. And hopefully those more immediate, immediately onerous, and memorable consequences will result in the person not having to experience the more serious consequences later of poor relationships, bad jobs, legal troubles, etc. that tend to be life-long and passed down to the next generation.
I suppose drugs would be easier. I’m sure there are drugs out there that make people more calm and compliant. Turn them into little “Stepford” children. But I don’t want different children. I don’t want drugged up robots. I want my kids to learn to be good and responsible and how to discipline themselves.
One of the kids asked me about punishments (when he was trying to get out of one) and wasn’t that just revenge, (which we teach our children is wrong). That is a really good question.
In both cases it seems to be “you did this thing I did not like, so I will do this thing you won’t like to you.” And in many cases, discipline does stray into the territory of revenge. But I believe the main difference between discipline and revenge is the intent of the person meting it out. What is the intention of the parent? If my intent is simply “I am mad at and I want to make you suffer for it,” then, yes, it is revenge. But if my intent is “what you did was wrong and you need to learn to associate unpleasantness with it, the next time an opportunity presents itself you will think ‘I don’t want punishment to happen to me’ and you will stop yourself (teaching yourself to discipline yourself), and (if I’m really successful) I want you to empathize with the other party” then it is discipline.
I am reminded of something the writer of Hebrews penned: “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.” Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”
When I am talking about discipline, I am just talking about behaviors that will make them good members of society and, as my wife and I are Christians, there is also an emphasis on behaviors that Christians should be exhibiting. The end result of those is hopefully a functioning adult with the inner tools to manage him or herself and in a way that is morally upright. One cannot discipline a child into becoming a Christian. Being a Christian is not simply following rules. It is a matter of the heart and God’s power. Ultimately I do hope for my children to fall in love with Jesus, put their hope and faith on him, and experience his power in their lives. I believe that is what they were created for and will find most satisfying in life and that is how one truly lives. But no amount of time outs, sorry letters, rewards of Chuck E Cheese, etc. will change a heart like that.
I am nothing like Major Payne. I hate disciplining my children. Despite what they may tell you. And I’m not always consistent. I really don’t want to have to ask if they did their homework and to show it to me and to check the school’s website to make sure they showed me all of it. I really don’t want to go through mp3 players looking for Lil Wayne and other trash. I really don’t want to play detective to figure out who hit who or who ate whose Doritos. And I really don’t want to put this one in time out for so long and take away that one’s video games for so long. I’d really rather just enjoy dinner together, play UNO, yell at the Eagles or Barcelona on tv, talk about what happened at work or school, read a book while they play with friends in the other room, etc. And I can do that, but if I really love my children more than my own temporary comfort and desire for harmony, I will also discipline them. And the attitude and the heart behind that discipline matter if I am to be a parent rather than just an angry tyrant.