This was the mother’s heart-wrenching cry as she poured out her parenting frustrations to my wife in the hallway of ___________ (sorry but that would be too much public information). What should this mother do next? Should she hit the panic button and ground him for the next two years? Not a bad idea actually but very impractical (I’m kidding, about the good idea part). Should she throw her hands up in despair and write her son off as a lost cause? No, one puff does not make an instant heroin addict, (although, ask an addict and they will tell you they all started with one puff). Should she send him away to some private boot camp for delinquent boys hoping some amateur drill sergeant will exercise the demon right out of him? Even if she had mega-bucks, this certainly would not get to the heart of his problem. Maybe if he’s 18, she could march him down to the Marine Corps recruiting office and get him signed up and let them handle his drug problem. They will put an end to his drug habit, but they probably won’t accept him since they are getting picky about applicants these days. Actually this is not a bad idea at all if they would take him. Besides dealing with his blossoming drug habit, the military would also instill many manly characteristics into his flexible semi-manly fiber with real drill sergeants. But despite these huge bennies, the military still cannot change the boy’s heart, and that is the real issue isn’t it?
So what should she do? Or, better yet for you with younger children, what should she have done? It is not enough now while Bobby is snarfing Cheerios in a race against the clock before he has to board the school bus to quote the proverb from Corinthians (1 Corinthians 15:33 ESV), “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals.’ ” It is absolutely true; those bad company friends of his put the temptation in front of him and his desire to gain their approval overpowered any last-minute, post-breakfast, late-for-school reminders. But the truth of that proverb needed to be buried deep within the heart of that son long ago. I am not saying it is too late. I am saying it is much more difficult when he is 16 than when he was 6.
Between ages 0-5, a parent’s job is to teach Bobby’s soul that Mom and Dad love him so much they expect him to obey their authority. The mystical connection between love and obedience is like electrons and protons in an atom. I dare you to explain how those positive and negative elements of an atom stay separated from each other in two sentences or less. It is impossible because you will have to get into quantum mechanics to do so. For now, let’s just say it is a divine mystery of God’s creative talent to link the two (obedience and love) together. I like to think of it this way, when certain chords are played on a guitar the vibrations of those sounds often please my heart and soothe my soul. So does the love of a father and mother for a child strike a pleasing chord to the heart of a child that makes them want to obey the one they love and respect. Jesus linked them together when he said, “If you love me you will keep my commandments,” John 14:15. Therefore mom and dad, by the time your child is five, they need to know (I’m talking deep knowing that penetrates their soul) that you love them and that when they disobey you, they need to know also that they are showing a lack of love for you.
Between the ages of 6-12 a child needs help building their character and learning what character is all about. The Book of Proverbs will give you all you need to know regarding how and what to teach regarding honesty, loyalty, obedience, faithfulness, compassion, self-control, wisdom, and heeding godly guidance, among many other attributes of character.
Between the ages of 13-18 it is the parent’s job to transfer parental values to the child so that a child will have an internal guidance system that will almost automatically steer them away from bad and destructive decisions and towards wise and productive decisions. In terms of Bobby above, he will have decided for himself that getting high is not the pathway to getting ahead.
In each stage above it is absolutely imperative, no, it is beyond that even, it is absolutely, absolutely imperative that a parent model for a child everything he or she is trying to teach them to become. An ounce of hypocrisy will poison the whole stew from which you are trying to feed your child the principles and benefits of obedience. So, if caught, confess, repent, and practice living the truth instead of a lie.
What should the mother above do if at age 16 her son is disobeying her and smoking weed? It is not too late. Pray, pray and then pray again. God loves to change hearts. Who are you praying for? Not your son first of all. You need to pray for you. Pray that God will break your heart for your child because you know where that disobedience will lead and take them. If you say you love your child, then weep for them; genuinely weep for them. And let them see your tears. Let them see the redness of your eyes as you have spent hours crying before the Lord and when they ask you why you were crying, don’t say anything at first. They know, don’t they? This is not a time for lectures. This is a time to let actions speak louder than words. Of course later you will need to dispense consequences as well, but do so in a way that says to the child “I care so much about you, I will try to do everything in my power to prevent you from wasting your life. God gave you so much talent and abilities that if you wasted them by living like you intend then you will never experience the happiness God had planned for you from the beginning of time.” That’s the lecture that will be heard. Love. It cannot be ignored.
*The stages and concepts above are all part of Paul Tripp’s study called “Getting to the Heart of Parenting” You can link to it here: http://www.paultripp.com/parenting