Monday, May 21, 2012

Discipline and Anger: Bad Combo

As the culture becomes more secular, parenting skills and instincts get a little weaker. Mothers and fathers seem to struggle now days with the balance between affection and discipline. Both are not only necessary for good parenting but they also proceed from the virtue of love.

A friend of mine, who happens to be single, pointed something out to me about the way many of his friends attempt to discipline their children. I found it to be quite instructive. In fact, after thinking about for some time I came to realize that many parents in our society fall into this habit. And to be sure, I am by no means exempt from this fault.

When children do wrong, what parents naturally do is that they make their children’s wrongdoing about themselves and not about the moral well-being of the child in question. Quite often the immediate response to their child’s transgression is anger. Parents, for instance, may personalize their children’s transgressions by taking offense that their directive wasn’t heeded. By expressing feelings of anger, betrayal or frustration, the mother or father unintentionally gives the impression to the child that the main incentive for good behavior (or avoiding bad behavior) is to minimize the possibility of angering his or her parents. Yet, children who are conditioned to associate their own bad behavior with their parent’s anger will lack the incentive to be good in their parent’s absence.

It is not the case that anger is never justified in parenting or disciplining children; it is just that kids need to know that avoiding a mother's or father’s anger is not the main reason for being good. Parents expressing their disappointment over their child's moral imperfections is often an effective instrument in bringing about a better result. But in the end, children need to be trained to see their own sins and wrongdoing as that which undermines their own welfare. Indeed, they need to know that their transgressions or disobedience, first and foremost, offends God; and by offending God and breaking the moral law they hurt- not only their parents -but above all, themselves! After all, the only person that can send "me" to hell is "me;" upon death, God only confirms the choice that "I" made.

When parents fail to discipline their children, the world ends up doing it for them. There seems to be a growing consensus among college professors and employers that the younger generations are increasingly given into an entitlement mentality and are lacking a sound work ethic. Not a few parents have complained about their own children in this regard. Curiously, they talk as if the character deficits of their children have nothing to do with their own parenting. More often than not, it comes back to the parents.

Get children to think about their own future. For children, every moment seems like an eternity. Sometimes a calm resolve and a serious determination in disciplining a child with a follow-up explanation is an effective approach. Of course, children do not always deserve an explanation as to the reasons behind their punishment. Nevertheless, it is good, from time to time, to explain to them why their transgression undermines their own best interests. This is a far cry from yelling at them all the time. Too many parents, I am afraid, resort to yelling as a form of discipline; which yelling is not! Children and teens have a way of tuning that out. And let there be no doubt, if they develop the skills of ignoring you while they are still at home, they will become even more proficient at ignoring you in their adulthood years.

Real discipline, on the other hand, is something that children find most inconvenient and sometimes painful. At the very least, it is severe enough to make children wish they had not committed the misdeed to begin with. A little fear and trepidation before acting on bad impulses is a good thing. We should remember that fear of the Lord is a gift of the Holy Spirit. Just the same, a reverential fear of displeasing one's parents is a virtue in children. Too many children haven't the slightest fear (a good, filial fear) of their parents.

Keep this in mind: God is both Father and friend. In Him, discipline and affection, justice and love, supreme and awe-inspiring authority and sweet intimacy are reconciled. Parents are God’s surrogates. Their authority has the impress of God’s divine authority. As such, their parental love and discipline should have a resemblance to His.

Finally, our Faith tells that God loves us as wholly unique individuals. As far as He is concerned,no one else in the world can replace us. But yet, He disciplines us in such a way as to remind us that the world will go on without us. In fact, we are not the center of the universe- He is! And if we should choose to live a life without Him, and therefore choose an eternity that does not include Him- although this will undoubtedly grieve Our Lord and Our Lady -the bliss of angels and saints in heaven will endure nonetheless. This spiritual reality should also be translated into raising children.

Children need to know that no sin or fault, however bad it may be, is insurmountable or unforgivable. But they also need to know that honor, character and holiness requires that they do the right thing when no one else is looking.