DEAR FATHER PAUL: We are a Christian couple with a (sometimes) unruly child, age six. We know what all of the so-called experts in child psychology say about child discipline. But what does the Bible say about correcting a child’s unacceptable behavior? No Name.
DEAR NO NAME: The Bible plainly teaches that child discipline is a good thing, not a bad thing. Why? Because, as the scriptures below point out, God sees discipline as a kind of “wake-up call” to GET A CHILD’S ATTENTION and to help them return to “the right path” as opposed to staying on “a wrong path” which they may have taken.
The unpleasant fact is that ALL of us, …but especially children, need and benefit from correction and discipline from time-to-time. This does not mean that we are “evil” or “bad” or that we are without hope. No, most of the time, the need for discipline just means that we haven’t thought through the consequences of our actions BEFORE we take them. Discipline helps us to learn to stop and think … see possible consequences to our actions … then hopefully amend our ways.
The writer of Hebrews, in the Bible tells us as much in Hebrews, Chapter 12, verse 13 (New Living Translation) “No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening … it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way.” Note the word “trained.”
King Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, says these words in the Book of Proverbs … Chapter 22, verse 15 (King James Version) “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child … “ In other words, all of us, but especially children, are prone to do foolish, unthinking things. Other translations use the following words instead of foolishness … “A tendency to do wrong; Folly; Doing silly, careless things; Doing senselessness things.”
Solomon then completes the verse by giving his and God’s wise disciplinary / correction remedy. “ …. but the rod of correction shall drive it (foolishness) far from him.” In other words, corporal punishment, or a good spanking will ward off foolish behavior in a child. One of the newer translations translate the passage a little softer. The New Living Translation says, “physical discipline will drive it (foolish behavior) far away.”
Did you ever get spankings as a child? Sad to say, I did. Not a lot, mind you (just kidding), but enough to learn that certain behaviors, words or actions were “the wrong path” with sure, certain, and unpleasant consequences. Later, I learned when I became a parent, what I never realized my mom and dad felt. Namely, a spanking is much more painful for the parent than the child. But it is sometimes necessary and can indeed change wrong behavior.
In another place in Proverbs Solomon has words for today’s modernists who argue that corporal punishment has no place in 2018 and should NEVER, EVER be used. Solomon says this in Proverbs 13:24 (New Living Translation) “Those who spare the rod of discipline hate their children. Those who love their children care enough to discipline them.” Or, as Yoda would say, “discipline them you must!”
So, while there are many effective ways of disciplining children other than simple corporal punishment, Solomon’s suggestions have a degree of merit, even 3,000 years later. The main thing is that parents cannot refuse to discipline their unruly children and simply “hope” that they’ll turn out OK. They won’t! I’ll never forget an instance when I was an elementary school principal in another metro Atlanta county in the early 70’s. Jamie was a bright but incorrigible first grader. One day as school was dismissing, Jamie crawled up under one of the school buses and refused to come out. I was not about to crawl under the bus myself or ask his teacher or the bus driver to do it. He lived just five minutes from the school, so I called his mom. She was there in a flash, and I’ll never forget what she said to the lad. She said, “please come out Jamie, you are making mommy very sad.” Jamie then made a certain obscene hand gesture at his mother that cannot be named in a family newspaper. Later, a policeman dragged him out kicking and screaming. Jamie went to prison at age twenty-two. Ten to one Jamie was NEVER spanked!
Again, corporal punishment is Biblical and can be very effective, but it is not the ONLY method of discipline that works well. When I turned eleven I never got another spanking. Instead my wise parents made me spend long agonizing hours in my room from which I could see and hear the other kids outside playing! Effective? Very! When I turned sixteen and could drive, mom or dad simply took my copy of the family car keys for two or three weeks. Imagine having to explain to your girl-friend that the big date was now off … and it was YOUR fault. Talk about amending your future behavior!
In Georgia, corporal punishment, restraint or detention of unruly children is legal so long as it is done by the child’s parents and is deemed “reasonable.”
Do you have a question? Send it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will try to answer you in the paper.
Father Paul Massey is Pastor Emeritus of Church of the Holy Cross in Fayetteville, Georgia. See our ad in the Worship With Us section on this page.