What is the Objective Bar For Determining Whether or Not Your Child is a Brat?

[The following is an outline meant for a Sunday School class]

An Argument for Spanking

  1. Sons loved by their fathers are disciplined (Hebrews 12:5-7).
  2. Discipline at the time is painful rather than pleasant (Hebrews 12:6,11).
  3. Discipline is meant for the good of the child. Holiness is the ultimate aim (Hebrews 12:9-10).
  4. Spanking is a prescribed form of painful discipline designed to yield fruit (Proverbs 13:24, 22:15, 23:13-14, 29:15).
  5. Therefore, sons loved by their fathers will be disciplined with spanking for their spiritual good.

As for the argument that corporal punishment is reserved for older youth, or even teenagers, due to the inability of children to adequately process such discipline, or sufficiently comprehend their sin, I would reply:

A) Why would one form of discipline (spanking) be any more confusing than another form of discipline (taking away their toys, placing them in time out, etc.)?

Suppose someone takes away the child’s toy, might the child think, “Why is my father stealing my toy? He is depriving me of happiness! And what could be taken next? Food? He’s a monster!” Or, “I thought my mother loved me… but now she is placing me all alone in a corner, separating me from her, thereby showing me that she will abandon me when I am bad- oh, such conditional love!”

In the same way that these scenarios are ridiculous in the face of wise, loving discipline, where the parent explains what they are doing, as well as the child’s sin, and seeks to apply gospel truths to the situation, spanking is no less confusing or inappropriate. All forms of discipline can be poorly done. And all forms of discipline can be wisely carried out. It hinges on the parent’s approach and character.

B) Experience has long since taught me (and I am sure others) that young children are more than capable of understanding their sinful behavior, as well as the attendant discipline (including spanking). Naturally, a wise parent will be sensitive to various factors like age, the particular sin in view, health, etc., and tailor their discipline accordingly.

C) Experience has also long since taught me (and I am sure others) that when spanking is done well (by incorporating all other manner of preparatory discipline, as well as confession of sin, reconciliation, forgiveness, etc.), the effects can be astonishingly good, almost as if Solomon knew what he was talking about.

Conclusion: So unless there is clear and compelling evidence that spanking is either (1) prohibited by Scripture and/or is actually based on a false reading of certain texts1, or (2) meant solely for older youth, then parents ought to understand the “spanking” passages in their most natural and forthright sense- and do it.

1 That there is a metaphorical sense to the use of the rod is beyond dispute. In the text cited above in Hebrews, for example, the word mastigoo (often rendered scourges or chastises or punishes) in 12:6 simply means to flog or scourge. Naturally, the persecution facing the Hebrews didn’t involve God spanking them in a literal sense. The point is that the essence of the discipline was painful. But as is the case with metaphors in general, they are rooted in concrete reality. Thus, in some contexts, like those seen in Proverbs, the use of the rod is unmistakably linked with hitting or spanking. It’s a literal injunction. But behind the idea of spanking is that more fundamental concept of painful discipline. That’s the point of spanking. That’s why swats are applied to a child’s butt. The idea is to correct/discipline with measured applications of pain in order to teach the child that sin yields discomfort, misery, and ultimately hell.

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Family Matters

What is the objective bar by which we can determine whether or not our child is a brat?

Or,

How do we objectively measure whether or not we’re doing a good job raising godly children?

 

Question:

  • Have you ever known a full-fledged, naughty monster of a kid whose parents seemed oblivious to the fact that their child was a tiny tyrant bent on ruining the world? Do share a horrible experience.
  • Why do you think the parents were oblivious? Or did they know it on some level, but not as fully as outsiders? Why do we think outsiders can more readily see the brattiness of the child? Conversely, why are parents (sometimes) blind to their child’s brattiness?

Step One:

In order to fully flesh out a standardized brat-o-meter, it seems that one has to first ask what the point of parenting is exactly. What’s the goal? What is God’s design for the family? What does He want to see happen? Or to trace out another related thread, why did God create marriage? Answering such questions will provide a more fertile context for determining brattiness, given that the concept can be measured against a particular backdrop of expectations.

  • So what is the God ordained point of marriage? What is it supposed to picture?
  • What is marriage supposed to normally accomplish?
  • Are children simply a strange, if not accidental byproduct of physical union? I mean why didn’t God just make a bunch of human adult couples with no opportunity for procreation? Or just a bunch of single adults (like the angels) and call it a day?
  • If there is a point to having children, what is that point? Or points?

 

Step Two:

Have you ever wondered why the Bible says directly so little about the mechanics of parenting? After all, given the tremendous import of the family and the rearing of children, wouldn’t one expect to see multiple, sustained chapters (or even an entire book in the Bible) dedicated to specifically addressing parenting issues? I mean if we have a book like Song of Solomon, why not one detailing the upbringing of godly seed? Maybe 1st Dobson or 2nd Wilson (you should be grinning and not taking this sentence seriously)?

  • So why does the Bible say directly so little, if you agree?
  • What status do the children of believers occupy, and what is its significance in light of the previous question?

 

Step Three:

Parents are given the extraordinary task of training and directing their children to reflect God. In a very real sense, therefore, the brat-o-meter must be formulated in light of the commands of God. That’s the bar. And to the degree that a child misses the mark, to that same degree the Richter scale of naughtiness compounds. For it follows that for every positive command a negative reality exists on the flip side of it. Holy, unholy. Patient, impatient. Kind, unkind. Faithful, unfaithful. Content, grumbling. Etc.

With this in mind, the spectrum of imperatives is fantastically extensive, extending across the entirety of human experience, touching everything from our speech, to our thoughts, to our actions, to our ambitions, to our desires, to our time management, to our use of money, to our happiness, etc. This means that children ought to be taught, and taught to embody:

  • What it means to be a temple of God, pure and holy, hating evil and loving light.
  • What it means to be a son or daughter of the King, adopted forevermore, and called to live in a manner worthy of the calling they have received, all the while avoiding the trap of the devil who tempts us to believe that sin, not holiness, brings greater happiness and pleasure.
  • What it means to bless and not curse, and to be an encouragement, using the gift of speech to build others up, without falling into empty flattery.
  • What it means to love and hate, and to know how such grand truths should be applied to the complexities of life.
  • What it means to be an ambassador heralding a message of forgiveness to a dying world, and what courage in the face of tough decisions looks like, and how one ought to persevere through difficulties, not complaining sinfully against God, like a soldier suddenly surprised that he is in a war and wanting none of his general’s wise orders.
  • What it means that we are now a kingdom of priests made to serve our God, and how our worship is to be sincere and fervent, deep and true, abounding in joyous praise, and how all of our actions carry infinite weight, echoing across eternity, world without end.
  • What it means to know Him who is Truth itself, and how the various philosophies of this world are empty and hollow, promising much but giving nothing, save only that which they leech and borrow from God.
  • Etc., Etc.

To the degree that children are not being taught to love such things, and to the degree that they do not reflect such grand truths, which are saturated with ethical norms, to that same degree they will edge towards full-fledged bratty mcbratness.

 

Step Four:

But surely we can be more specific. Surely we can boil this down to a central nub; a key concept that strikes so vitally at the heart of the issue that it becomes the glowing center of the brat-o-meter.

What do you think? Try to think of all the commands directed specifically to the children themselves. Are there many?

In the following texts, isolate and identify the objective markers children are enjoined to embody (or not embody):

  • “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” (Ephesians 6:1)
  • “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.” (Col 3:20)
  • “If anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination.” (Titus 1:6)

  • “He (an elder) must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?” (1 Timothy 3:4-5)

 

Step Five:

So what is the shining center for determining whether or not your child is a brat (or falling short of where he should be)? Remember: “Even a child makes himself known by his acts, whether his conduct is pure and upright.” (Proverbs 20:11)

  • Does your child obey you?
  • Is he submissive?
  • Does he honor you?
  • Is he unruly or insubordinate or immoral?

At the end of the day, if your child does not embody obedience, then they are a brat. More diligent work needs to be done.

Note: Here it ought to be borne in mind that this is a process, and that there are different personalities to children, some of which are more challenging, and that someone might stumble upon a parent who is diligently disciplining their child, but the battle for the child’s will has not yet been sufficiently won. In that snapshot, an onlooker may imagine that the child is a little monster and that the parents are doing a poor job.

That being said, a lax parent will typically give fair reason to onlookers for thinking that they aren’t working diligently enough. For example, I know of more than one mother, who, when their child was making a scene, or acting out poorly, would promptly pick them up and remove them to a quiet place and proceed to discipline them. Many a child, for example, has come back from the church bathroom during morning worship sniffling and hugging their Mom who has just spanked them. I know of others who have driven home from, say, Walmart, just to discipline their child who was acting out.

A parent doing a poor job with their child will typically exhibit those qualities that do not accord with godly discipline (such as arguing/wrangling/bickering with the child, screaming at the child, counting to three, acting as if they are powerless, belittling the child with abusive speech, threatening the child with improper threats, “If you don’t stop I’m going to abandon you… or disown you… or…”

 

Bonus Thought For Adults:

The whole of Scripture predicates the church’s relationship with God squarely on the concept of a father with his children. God is our Father. We are His children. “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children” (Ephesians 5:1). And “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Rom 8:16).

Since children are fundamentally directed towards obedience as noted above, it is worth remembering at least two verses:

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15)

“Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.” (1 John 5:1-3)

If the glowing center of the brat-o-meter for children is obedience and honoring one’s parents, then it would seem to hold across the board. If we love and honor Jesus, will will obey Him.

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