Monday, July 25, 2011

Discipline vs Abuse - A Rant

Being that it's the summer, I watch a lot of daytime crap TV. It's a not-so-secret-brainless-indulgence of mine. The other day I caught a rerun episode of Dr. Phil, who was following up about a woman who has been charged with misdemeanor child abuse for the way she "disciplined" her 7 year-old.

Her methods? Yelling, hot sauce to "clean out" his mouth, and a super cold shower while he was crying and screaming for dear life. Obviously, Dr. Phil offered her counseling and she (at least publicly) accepted and is learning a better way to discipline. Then Dr. Phil said that "saucing" is a prevalent form of "discipline" in some parts of the States.

Recently I recounted this episode to someone I know, who then informed me that she knew of someone who also uses cold showers/baths as a way to shock/discipline their young (as in preschool-age) child. Apparently this individual throws their child in the tub, clothes and all, and runs the cold water from the showerhead until the child is drenched. I was told that this occurred if the child repeatedly failed to observe time-outs after being placed there.

Really? This happens? To people who aren't on Dr. Phil? What?!?!?

So yeah, I got to thinking. What would I do if I had a belligerent, stubborn child? What is the purpose of discipline? Would I ever resort to desperate saucy or cold water methods to get my kid to behave?
I don't have all the answers, obviously, but this much I know: the purpose of discipline is to correct behaviour. It is to "train up a child in the way that he/she should go," and it should be done, but performed in love (and not out of anger).

Prov 3:11-12 (NIV) My son, do not despise the Lord's discipline and do not resent his rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.

Prov 15:5 (NIV) A fool spurns his father's discipline, but whoever heeds correction shows prudence.

I would hope that I can give my child enough consistent boundaries that he/she would know right from wrong, and good from bad. I would hope to live out my own life as an example, and teach my child that obedience is done out of love ultimately for God and for others. I would want my little one to know that when I do discipline, it is because I love them and want them to be safe and healthy.

And I would make sure that, as much as possible, any discipline I mete out would be preceded by and followed by much prayer, and the discipline itself would be educational or at the very least, appropriate to the infraction. The Dr. Phil lady was punishing her kid for lying. Hot sauce in his mouth won't teach him to stop lying (but maybe he'd try harder not to get caught). Likewise, a cold shower isn't at all appropriate to not observing a time out.

Yeah, yeah. Judgy moms might ask me what qualifies me, a non-mom, to dole out parenting advice. And they would be right in saying that I haven't ever walked that road before, so I couldn't imagine the frustration of dealing with a belligerent child day in and day out.

But it doesn't take having a child to know that it is wrong to act out of anger. The Bible admonishes us not to sin in our anger. It teaches us to let our gentleness be evident to all (including our children). I don't think it is possible to parent effectively without prayer, and unceasing prayer at that. I don't believe it is within our sinful human nature to be loving disciplinarians because our nature is not loving. But I know that the Spirit empowers us to do what we cannot otherwise do on our own; the Spirit changes our hearts and gives us new eyes to see our children from Jesus' perspective, and that brings about a love and a compassion that compels us to want to do what is best for them rather than what gives us release or relief in that moment of anger or power and control.

I'm not perfect. Nobody is. So I don't write this to say that these moms are horrible individuals who should be locked up in jails. We'd all be there for one reason or another if our sins were exposed, I'm sure. What I am saying is that there is always a better way, and that better way only happens through the grace, mercy and love that comes from Jesus. May we all learn a better way.


Anonymous said...

You need to listen to these podcasts: Children are "belligerent" because they learn the behavior from their parents.