“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” – Proverbs 22:6 (NKJV)
Christians love to use this verse as a promise that their wayward son or daughter, reared in church as a child, will one day return home to them and to God. Maybe they will, maybe not. King David trained his son Solomon, the writer of Proverbs, “in the way he should go.” Thanks to hundreds of heathen wives, King Solomon left the faith as an adult (1 Kings 11:1-10). “His wives turned his heart after other gods,” so Solomon was disloyal to the Lord (11:4). The Bible doesn’t record an old-age or deathbed repentance, although Solomon might have made one.
The problem is different today. Children are trained but rarely “in the way [they] should go.” Without divine intervention, they “will not depart from” that way either. Disciplined and obedient children become disciplined and obedient adults. Likewise, rude and rebellious children become rude and rebellious adults. In the words of a Gaither children’s song, “Input, output. What goes in is what comes out.” I should know. My 60-year-old bullying uncle received little parental discipline as a bullying child.
We wonder today why so many teenagers and young adults are lazy, lawless rebels. The answer is the home, a hardworking Monsters Inc. Instead of angels, lax parents produce little monsters disingenuously called “children” and unleash them on an unsuspecting world. We’re born with a sinful nature, but new parents cooing over their baby ignore that truth. They forget that the pretty child playing with a toy will one day become a grown man or woman and the training that he or she received in the home will be replicated in adult society. No wonder we live in a morally lax society today.
Children are by nature selfish and lazy, unmindful of their safety, so their sinful impulses must be curbed through kind but sensible discipline. Yet parents let children say and do whatever they want, even if such desires are harmful. Too often at hotels and restaurants I have watched parents let young children choose their own food. Children don’t understand nutrition, so it is the parent’s responsibility to choose healthy food. This means that children must eat meat and vegetables and drink milk. Whether they want to or not is irrelevant. Children used to choosing their own food without parental input or guidance will be easily led to choose alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs when they become teenagers and adults. A parent’s input then is often too late.
Children shouldn’t play around a heated stove. They might burn themselves. They shouldn’t run in public either. They might trip and fall. This is basic instruction, meant to protect children from harm, but few parents today give it. I often see children running in the aisles of stores and at libraries and churches, laughing and screaming, as parents stand idly by and do nothing. I don’t need to ask these parents if they ever discipline their children. I already know.
Do undisciplined children receive moral guidance at home? Do parents punish them when they say or do something they know is wrong and then hide or lie about it? They should, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t. This pattern fits lax parenthood, people who want to be their children’s “friend” or don’t want them to “suffer.” Yet children already have friends their own age. What they need from adults is sound discipline. Punishment isn’t suffering either; it saves the soul. God corrects his children, for their benefit (Proverbs 3:11-12, Hebrews 12:5-11). Shouldn’t we correct ours?
Many children today are reared in seemingly nice homes with everything money can buy. Yet left to themselves, without parental discipline or moral guidance, these children are little better than a wild child reared alone in the forest. Although they speak their native language fluently, they’re just as useless to society. An undisciplined child is an adult nightmare in the workplace, a moral monster at home. Lax parents are the cause. Anyone can change through conversion and discipleship, but why should we give God a heavier workload? How many children would become productive adult members of society, and keep the faith, if only their parents would train them “in the way [they] should go”?