Ki Teze
For the week of September 6, 2003 / 9 Elul 5763
Torah: Devarim / Deuteronomy 21:10 - 25:19
Haftarah: Isaiah 54:1-10

Parental Responsibility

If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will not listen to them when they discipline him, his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his town (Devarim / Deuteronomy 21:18,19).

The Torah is clear that it is the responsibility of parents to discipline their children. The verse above reads, "when they discipline him" not "if they discipline him." This passage directs parents, should their children get out of control, to take complete charge over them and bring them to the leaders of the community for punishment.

The words in the context of these verses reveal that these are not young children. On the contrary, the kind of behavior described is that of at least teen-agers, if not older. This is in contrast to the feeling of some parents that once their children get to a certain age (and a young age at that), they are no longer responsible to continue to train and discipline them.

It is difficult to say for sure what the age limit should be for parental discipline, but I tend to think that as long as our offspring are dependant upon us for support, we have a certain amount of authority in their lives. If we are providing for our children, but do not make them accountable for their bad behavior, are we not aiding and abetting them?

I have the impression that one of the reasons for the lack of parental discipline in our day is that parents are intimidated by their children. There are likely many reasons for that. Whatever those reasons are, many parents feel unsupported by the larger society and often feel helpless when their children get out of control.

But this doesn’t change our God-given responsibility to discipline our children. As the world around us continues its moral decline, we have an opportunity to stem the tide by doing what it takes to prevent our precious offspring from engaging in destructive behavior.

I would like to offer three very important tips which I believe you may find beneficial in disciplining your children. I know that so many books have been written on this subject, and I don't want to oversimplify this issue, but I think there are three things that are very foundational, if we are going to help our children stay on a good and healthy course of life.

The first is start young. Don't be afraid to say "no" to your young children. Parents need to take charge of their households from the beginning. Children need to get used to the fact that they can't always have what they want. The earlier they learn this, the better.

Second, be consistent. Do not threaten a consequence unless you are going to follow through. Children learn by example and learn quickly. If you do not do as you say, your children will learn to not trust your words. If they don't trust what you say, you won't be able to discipline them effectively.

Finally, it's never too late. It seems that some parents accept their children's wild behavior as the necessary fruit of parental mistakes of the past. When parents feel that they are to blame for their children's behavior, they feel as if they have to put up with it. That's nonsense. If you have made mistakes or misjudgments in the past, do whatever you can to rectify them, but at the same time, you need to call your children to account for their own actions.

When God gives authority to someone, he backs up that authority. I believe that if we, as parents, would take our God-given places in our homes, there would be major changes for the better in our society today.

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