STUDY NINE: PARENTS AND CHILDREN
© Rosemary Bardsley 2006, 2016
Much of what we have already learned can be applied to parent/child relationships. From the Sanctity of Life issues we understand that all behaviour that displays a disrespect for or abuse of human life is outlawed by the word of God. Much of it is also outlawed by the government. This rules out all forms of disrespect and anger [emotional and psychological abuse] and physical abuse. From the studies on sexual issues we learn the boundaries that prohibit the sexual use and abuse of children. These laws apply to parents in relation to their own children just as much as they do in the broader community. Parenthood is never an excuse for the mistreatment of one’s own children.
We are however living in a society that is not only eroding values on the one hand but also refining values on the other hand. [To some extent, the latter is a result of the former, for the increasing incidence of child abuse within families has necessitated specific legislation.] Parenting activities that were previously accepted as the norm, for example physical punishment, are now seen as abusive or infringing on the rights of children. Parents who believe that the Bible commands physical punishment are especially challenged by this direction that our society is taking.
A. THE BIBLICAL VIEW OF CHILDREN
A.1 Children are God’s gift and blessing
What do these scriptures teach about children?
A.2 God’s expectations of children
God’s expectation of children can be summarized very simply: respect for and obedience to parents.
What do these scriptures teach about this respect and obedience?
Proverbs 10:1 Proverbs 15:20
B. BIBLICAL VIEW OF PARENTAL RESPONSIBILITIES
B.1 To pass on the knowledge of the Lord
God places on parents the responsibility of teaching their children the truth about God. This is to be done by means of commemorative rituals, by teaching about God’s actions in the past, and by verbal instruction in God’s commands. Although not listed below, much of Proverbs is a father’s instruction to his son, which not only gives specific instructions about life and godliness, but also pleads with the son to understand the great value of that instruction.
What do these scriptures teach about parental responsibility?
B.2 To so believe and live that their children are blessed
Note:  Most of the Deuteronomy references below are focused on acknowledging God as God;  the NT references to the ‘household’ or ‘family’ coming to faith along with the head of the house: this is not a matter of children being rewarded or punished for their parents’ behaviour, but the impact that a God-fearing generation has on the next. If one generation loses the knowledge of the Lord the following generation lives in darkness, with all the evil and suffering that accompanies ignorance of God.
What do these scriptures teach about the impact of parents’ choices on their children?
B.3 To set an example/role model to their children
The historical books of the Bible contain many references to children either following or departing from the example set by their parents or ancestors. A few are listed below.
What do these scriptures teach about the impact of parental role-modelling?
B.4 To pass on the inheritance received from the Lord
In the Old Testament the inheritance of the Lord is usually understood in terms of physical inheritance, particularly the land; in the New Testament it is understood in spiritual concepts.
What do these scriptures teach about parental responsibility to pass the inheritance of the Lord on to their children?
B.5 To love, provide and care for their children
What do these scriptures teach about parental responsibility?
B.6 To train and discipline their children in godly living
There are a number of concepts of training/disciplining in the references below:  corporal punishment [the ‘rod’],  verbal correction,  good management of the family, and  compassion and self-control on the part of the parents in disciplining their children.
What do these scriptures teach about parental responsibility?
C. DIFFICULT QUESTIONS
C.1 About ‘the rod’
Apart from Proverbs the biblical use of the word ‘rod’ falls into the following categories:
A stick, a common staff or a sceptre [for contingency law re its use for hitting a person see Exodus 21:20]
References to Moses’ rod and Aaron’s rod – each of which was a common staff, and through which God worked miracles.
References to heavy circumstances or a burden that one is suffering
The ‘rod of iron’ – a phrase used to describe the rule of God or of Christ
A symbol of punishment, not the punishment itself
Used to refer to nations God used to bring judgment to his people
A source of comfort and sustenance
Here Christians must face a number of questions:
 Do the Proverbs verses about the ‘rod’ refer to literally hitting the child with a rod? Or is hitting the child with a rod a figurative reference to parental control and rule over the child?
 Are we guilty of using Scripture selectively? Use of the Proverbs statements about the ‘rod’ to either require or support Christian use of physical punishment is a clear case of selective use and selective application of scripture. There are many other adages in Proverbs, some repeated in various ways, that are not commonly used and applied by Christians. When this selective application of scripture is observed the question that must be asked and answered is this: ‘Are those who selectively use and apply these scripture verses, while ignoring others in the same context, using them and applying them to excuse or support their preconceived ideas and their already decided course of action?’ In the case of the use of the rod: ‘Do parents who use it do so because they believe the Bible says they have to? Or, are they simply using the Bible verses to authorize their chosen parenting technique? Are they just as committed to obey all the other commands or adages in Proverbs?’
 Given that a ‘child’, (at least in Australian legal definitions), is anyone under 18 years, how many Christian parents continue to apply physical punishment to children up to that age? And, if they don’t, then at what age do they draw the line? And on what basis? Why is it okay to slap a five year old, but not a 17 year old? What makes the difference? Where does the Bible draw the boundary between a child and not a child? Again, apart from the legal ‘under 18’ definition we are left with a fluid definition that muddies the answers.
 At what point does physical discipline become child abuse? While parental use of reasonable, not excessive, non-injurious physical punishment is still generally permissible in Australia and the USA, child abuse is not. Child abuse is illegal. Child abuse incurs legal penalties.
The interpretation of ‘reasonable’ and ‘not excessive’ is quite fluid. With society moving towards a rejection of physical punishment and the affirmation of ‘children’s rights’, it can be expected that if a case was brought before the authorities the decision would probably be made in favour of the child rather than the parents.
Christian parents should exercise great caution here. It is far better to seriously minimize or even avoid physically punishing their children, than to run the risk of State Child Protection agencies removing their children from them and placing them with foster parents. The greater responsibility of parenting one’s own children and bringing them up in the knowledge of Christ, overrules the legalistic application of specific proverbs that mention using the ‘rod’.
C.2 Child abuse
Go to http://www.parentlink.act.gov.au/parenting-resources/parenting-guides/adult-issues/child-abuse to find secular answers to the following questions.
What is ‘physical abuse’?
What is ‘emotional abuse’? [Question: could putting religious pressure on a child be seen as emotional abuse?]
What is ‘neglect’? [Question to consider: could extreme protection of children from exposure to secular society be viewed as neglect?]
What is ‘sexual abuse?”
At what point does physical punishment become child abuse?
Why do parents abuse their children?
To what extent are these secular answers in line with biblical perspectives?
Note the final sentence in Article 26 in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.
Questions concerning their children’s education have to be faced by Christian parents. Some of these do not have a precise biblical answer, but have to be addressed by biblical principles and priorities. The answers given will vary from person to person, according to their particular circumstances and goals.
Personally comment on the following issues that require Christian parents to make sound decisions:
Sex education: Do you want your child to attend sex education classes at school? [Note that the class will probably not be called ‘sex education’.]
You need to ask what is included in the curriculum –
Does it include explicit descriptions or pictures of sexual acts? Does it assume or approve of pre-marital sex?
Does it assume the students are sexually active and present this as normal? Does it promote homosexual acts as normal? Does it encourage sexual experimentation?
You need to know your rights as a parent –
Are you permitted to withdraw you child from a class?
If you do, do you have an alternative curriculum that your child can study?
How will withdrawal from a class impact your individual children? [Sometimes this can be more damaging than remaining in the class.]
Is your relationship with your child such that you can discuss the content of the lessons at home after each class session? If you can, this is an opportunity for you to teach your child the difference between the secular and biblical standards.
Occult content of books, lessons, etc Similar questions arise here as above.
Sometimes in primary schools teachers will plan a sequence of lessons on occult themes, or read a book with occult content as a serial story to the class. Sometimes a teacher will be personally involved in occult practices. Again, you need to know your rights as a parent. [Can you request a change of class/teacher?] Ask. Express your difficulties.
Suggest another book for your child to read and study.
Can your individual child emotionally handle this kind of material or not? [Quite apart from spiritual issues, some sensitive children cannot handle ‘spooky’ stuff.]
How would exclusion from this impact your child?
If your child must read the material, read it too, and discuss the difference between it and belief in the one true God. Use it as a parenting tool to teach your child the superiority of the Lord and his ways.
Public versus Christian schools
You need to consider:
Quality of education offered.
Attitude of the public school to Christianity.
Behaviour standards of the school [including attitudes to drugs, bullying, immorality].
Doctrinal emphasis of the Christian school.
Are tertiary education prospects facilitated or hindered by the school?
Does the Christian school create an unrealistic environment?
How strong or weak is your child’s faith and commitment?
Does the public school environment put too much pressure on the child’s faith?
The peer pressure factor.
Are the subjects your child wants to study available at the school?
Is there a Christian student group at the public school?
Is creation taught at the school?
Accessibility – distance to travel.
You need to consider:
Can you afford it? [Check if your state Distance Education school will provide it free or at minimal cost.]
Does one parent have the time to supervise?
Does one parent have the patience?
Does it lead to university entrance?
Does your child function best alone or in a crowd? [You do need to take the personality and needs of each individual child into account.]
Does your child have opportunities to meet with other children, other than at school? [‘Child abuse’ includes ‘neglect’ which includes isolation of children from necessary companionship.]
Will removal from school have a beneficial or detrimental effect on your child in areas other than morals and belief?
Does your child need ‘time out’ for a term or semester or year from the stress of peer pressure at school, whether public or Christian?
Does your child need extended time alone to discover who he/she really is?
C.4 The question of child ‘rights’
For the full text of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child is available at http://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/crc.aspx . This is an excellent attempt to protect children worldwide. The only threat it poses to Christian parents’ fulfilling their God-given responsibilities towards their children is in the interpretation of where the boundaries lie in specific Articles, and this is dependent on the perspectives of the particular individuals by whom any issue is being legally decided.
There is an increasing focus on the ‘rights’ of children, so much so that some parents feel that their ‘rights’ as parents are being eroded. The Bible only speaks once of ‘rights’, and that is when John tells us that those who believe in Christ have the ‘right’ to become ‘children of God’ [John 1:12,13].
What the Bible does emphasise is our responsibilities. If parents parented their children in a godly and God-honouring manner, if state authorities governed in a God-honouring way, if children followed God’s instructions, both children’s ‘rights’ and parents’ ‘rights’ would be met. But we do not live in an ideal world. Not one of us, including the government, fully obeys God or honours God in the way we fulfil our responsibilities. There are, therefore, always going to be areas in which a given individual’s ‘rights’ are not being met. Yet this impossibility of perfection does not excuse us from striving to be the best we can be, whether individually as a parent or child, or corporately as a state, or any other group or organization.
Children are weak and vulnerable. They are also precious to God. And it is this weakness, vulnerability and preciousness that should motivate our biblical concern for them, not secular concerns for their ‘rights’.