Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Kids Gone Wild

Jan 18, 2010

It seems there is not a day that goes by lately in which some headline informs us of yet another case of children and young people going off the rails. Violence, drugs, criminal involvement, gangs, and even murder are becoming increasingly common amongst our young people.

While plenty of explanations for this can be offered, surely the breakdown in discipline and boundary-setting is a big part of this. Indeed, family breakdown is a contributing factor. Many single-parent families (most of which are headed by mothers) are struggling as is, and the absent father increases the tendency to see discipline reduced.

Even where parental discipline is on offer, increasingly the state is taking options away from parents. Many nations have barred parents from the right to use corporal punishment. And as I noted elsewhere, some nations are now seeking to ban “psychological violence” in the home.

All of this contributes to a generation of kids raised with few boundaries and little discipline. Of interest here, a recent news story from the UK reported that the British Schools Secretary has refused to ban smacking at Islamic schools, even though it is banned in all State and private schools. The secretary claims he wants to avoid ‘upsetting Muslim sensitivities’.

But leaving the physical punishment debate aside for now, many of our “experts” want to effectively ban all discipline. Many are not only against any corporal punishment, but are increasingly against any sort of discipline which might scar little Johnny’s fragile psyche, or in any way harm little Sarah’s wobbly self-esteem.

Consider this incredible suggestion from one such Australian “expert”. Here is how a recent news report carried the story: “A Melbourne expert says naughty corners and time out in bedrooms are inappropriate because they shame and humiliate. The same goes for smacking, which education and parenting consultant Kathy Walker says makes children feel resentful.”

So our authority on children says we must not “shame or humiliate” our children. Sorry, wait one minute here. It seems to me that simply telling a child “no” in dozens of circumstances could be potentially shameful or humiliating. Will she next say that parents should be banned from telling their kids they cannot do things?

An even more urgent question I would have for this expert is this: Do you have any children? So often these bureaucrats and experts who wax eloquent on family matters and the welfare of children do not even have a family of their own.

But wait, it gets even worse. In today’s press was a story about a lunatic proposal to reduce bullying in schools. The plan? To not punish bullies, but rather, “empower” them! I kid you not. “Rather than being accused, suspected bullies are merely spoken to and encouraged to think of ways to help a bullied student cope.” Well, that should certainly make the bullies think twice, shouldn’t it?

Indeed, why haven’t we thought of this before concerning other anti-social behaviours? Instead of accusing rapists, we could “empower” them. They could be encouraged to offer their victims help in coping. Instead of punishing arsonists, we should just speak to them and “empower” them. Let’s also empower thieves, racists and murderers. Puh-leeese!

The truth is, children grow up in only one direction, and that direction is toward self. Self-centredness comes naturally to all children. Indeed, everyone is essentially selfish and focused on number one. That is why we all need boundaries and we all need rewards and punishments.

In a perfect world there would be no need of discipline or ensuring that appropriate consequences flow from our choices. But this is not a perfect world, and we all tend to gravitate toward self. Turning what are basically selfish little brats into socially adaptable and civilised human beings is the stuff of years of careful parenting, helped out by the surrounding community.

In fact, there are only two major ways to ensure that we all don’t become a nation of savages: conscience and cops. We have an inward sense of right and wrong (a conscience) which needs to be trained and exercised. If we cannot lead socially acceptable lives by this inward moral compass, then society comes along with outward restraint: laws, police, courts and the like.

The more we dampen that inward moral voice, the more we have to depend on outward forces to maintain orderly, civilised behaviour. As the very idea of morality comes more and more to be seen as an out-dated concept, and as parental authority and discipline are being increasingly undermined, then we are simply left with the state taking on more of the role of boundary-setting and enforcement.

But there will never be enough laws or enough police to keep people – both young and old – in check, if we keep insisting that children can effectively run wild, and that parents cannot interfere with their development, for fear of wounding their sense of worth, or of humiliating them.

The truth is, things like shame and guilt are wonderful components of our inner moral life. They are essential features to keep the gravitational pull toward self in some sort of acceptable bounds. Without these inner checks and balances, we are much more prone to run amok, and even the most thorough police state will have trouble keeping the populace in control in those circumstances.

As a parent I do not at all have a problem with a bit of shame and guilt doing their work in my children’s lives. The aim is to turn them into polite, respectful and humane individuals, not little terrorists who respect nothing and no one. As one professor of psychology put it:

“When it comes to rearing children, every society is only 20 years away from barbarism. Twenty years is all we have to accomplish the task of civilizing the infants who are born into our midst each year. These people know nothing of our language, our culture, our religion, our values, or our customs of interpersonal relations. The infant is totally ignorant about communism, fascism, democracy, civil liberties, and the rights of the minority as contrasted with the prerogatives of the majority, respect, decency, honesty, customs conventions, and manners. The barbarian must be tamed if civilization is to survive.”

And these little barbarians will not be tamed if we get to the place where we are afraid to say no to our own children. When the forces of political correctness degenerate that far, then we might as well write off civilisation.

[1079 words]

21 Responses to Kids Gone Wild

  • To read this everyday about children gone ballisitc in some form or other is devastating to a parent like me. Alcohol it is suspected contributed to the horror smash occurring of yesterday & many many other times. Where are the parents in all this? They are busy trying to be liked by their children instead of doing their kids a favour and giving limits in their life, teaching the kids right from wrong, consequences of actions and choices, responsibilities. I read a long time ago that the more strict you are in discipline the better a child performs at school. Rewards & punishment are a must as a child must learn consequences, if not they will die at 15 years old… we read time & again through their own recklessness and parent’ absence from the childs life. I have a freind who used to work with a child who was in trouble with the police at a young age. The child said all he ever wanted was for his mother to be strict with him & she never was. This has stuck in my mind….we are abandoning our children if we give them everything they want & not teach them about consequences and responsibilities. We won’t be here forever but they are young and we need to leave them with, hopefully, if lucky, a long life ahead of them……one filled with awareness of what’s right & wrong.
    Frank Norros

  • This is so sad and shocking. Last night me and some friends went for drinks at a restaurant in town after church. The television was on with images of a show called “Super Nanny” I think. The sound wasn’t on but it was easy to see what was going on. There was this American family who had three impossible, hyperactive little children who did just not listen to anything the parents told them. This tv show then brings in a supposedly “expert” nanny who gives the parents advice on how to discipline the kids-but she seemed just as hopeless. You could hardly see any sign of anger on the parents’ faces, probably didn’t even raise their voices. They kept doing this thing where the one boy had to go stand against the wall, almost looked like a yellow card sin bin which players receive in rugby. Only difference is he just walked straight out of his sin bin and kept on complaining and the mother kept putting him back against the wall. All of us in the restaurant were gettting quite irritated and were almost cheering the parents on to give the kid a hiding. I also noted that the table next to us were watching as well and were equally amazed. Aware of the cultural obstacles in certain countries, where teachers and parents literally abuse children when they discipline them, the cane (and hard discipline) is the missing ingredient for a successful society in many countries today.
    Servaas Hofmeyr, South Africa

  • “Write off civilisation”; indeed. There are two possibilities, for the future: 1 – We do, in fact descend into barbarism in a few decades, or: 2 – there is a massive reaction to the kinds of ideas and ruling principles that have had all the running for the last 50 years or so (such reactions do happen in history, but don’t count on it happening soon). Are there any other alternatives?
    John Thomas, UK

  • Conscience, shame and guilt are essentials of the mind’s moral apparatus. You can’t socialise human beings without them. On the matter of physical punishment of children, there is a dark side. When I was a little schoolboy I was chasing another kid around the playground and absent-mindedly swung around the flagpole. I was quickly summoned to the principal’s office and given a few cuts across the hand with a cane for clearly harmless behaviour. The flagpole was steel and set in concrete. I knew of no rule against swinging around it and nor was the rule explained. Essentially the principal was a cold, sadistic personality who controlled children by fear. At the same school I saw two boys have their heads violently banged together for talking out of turn. Either could have been injured. At another school I had a teacher who used a brass-edged ruler to hit students. Our class had a few boys from a neighbouring orphanage. For some reason the teacher picked on them by giving them the brass edge whereas other students got the flat wooden side. When my mother heard about this vindictive practice she threatened the principal with a complaint to his superiors. She might have been moved by the fact that the hapless orphans had to beg other kids for food at lunchtime.

    I have three daughters. Only once did I smack one for misbehaviour and on that occasion I got my facts wrong. All three grew up to be mature, responsible, respectful, considerate adults.

    John Snowden

  • Thanks John

    The majority of parents know the difference between a loving smack and criminal assault.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Bill

    Would you advocate smacking of any kind? What guide would you use for discipline of children?

    Damien Spillane

  • A series of sermons in Ephesians by Martyn Lloyd Jones has been published as essays under the title Raising Children God’s Way.

    Among many others he makes the profound comment that one way of exasperating your children is to not discipline them in love. Children with no discipline become resentful easily when things don’t go their way. (Of course he also made the point that children unloved also become resentful)

    I’m not surprised that the pop parenting consultant says smacking causes resentment. Anything does when it’s used rarely or arbitrarily. But lovingly and consistently applied, appropriate smacking is accepted by children easily.

    It’s the parents and experts who have trouble accepting it.

    Mainly, I suspect, because it’s hard work.

    Michael Hutton, Ariah Park, NSW

  • Perhaps the solution is to make a requirement of having “expert” status in a field like this, either successfully raising children of your own, or else, spending a few years living in close quaters with the little sociapaths that are a result of these wonderful ideas. If you survive the second I guess you can be allowed to say what you want.
    Jason Rennie

  • Thanks Damien

    Your first question is loaded and needs clarification. Of course I advocate smacking, and of course I don’t advocate any kind. There is a big difference between a loving smack on the hand or the bottom, and taking a baseball bat to someone. Most parents know the difference.

    As to discipline, this is not the place to write a book on how to be a good parent. But it can take various forms, including smacks, denial of privileges, being sent to one’s room, cutting off of allowances, etc. Much of it is age-specific, and much of it will be specific to the sort of child one is dealing with.

    If you are lost at sea here, why don’t you try some of the classics on the topic, such as James Dobson’s Dare to Discipline and other works?

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Well Bill, lucky my kids are older now as they got 2 warnings then they got smacked on their bottoms – never above the waist but they were kept in line with a combination of Christian love and discipline – you cannot have one without the other. This Kathy Walker you mention – what is she an expert in?? She is unwittingly a very dangerous person as a result of the views she is advocating and sadly there are a lot of people like this around. It is not rational common sense thinking so these people’s minds must have been hijacked by the evil one to spread confusion and indecision and to date he seems to be doing a very good job – the Bible tells us that people have been taken captive by the devil to do his will (2 Tim 2:26). This whole scenario is just another example of the end times (2 Tim 3:4) and to me just reinforces the accuracy and truth of the Bible.
    Steve Davis

  • Proverbs 22:6 would be a good place to start. The youngest of my 5 children will be 21 this year, the eldest 26. They’ve each openly expressed their thanks for being brought up with firm discipline and guidance, and they’re each now self disciplined and upstanding members of the community. They now see clearly how their upbringing has set them apart from the masses, and they’re thankful for it. I’m pleased to witness a similar upbringing for my 1st grandchild. What these “experts” need are children.
    Kev Downes

  • Dear Bill, All this is very sad. Very sad. I cannot comprehend this. I am afraid of failing myself. Sometimes I wonder whether I am too strict or not enough. I am blessed to have a husband who does not like TV, who always wants the children playing outside when he is home from work &, thankfully, gets jobs that allows him some flexibility for time with the children. Having read this article of yours and all that have been happening to our young ones, I remember my father said to me “a measure of a man’s success is how his children turns out”. Perhaps he read this somewhere I dont know, but i remember those words and hold dear to it. I am so grateful that my husband is the way he is and my children are safe. Perhaps these experts should really talk to these children who have no parent around them constantly, who have no father, who were never disciplined and given limits and are now in trouble. Perhaps the answers are with them.
    Siti Khatijah

  • Bill, In relation to this type of encroachment, the people who write to this forum can obviously see it but the question is this: what do Christians do to face up to and deal with these types of sordid problems? Do we write letters, form action groups, forums etc? I am sure most if not all of the people who write to you pray about these issues but on the ground how do you canvass action against these things? Please forgive me if I sound a little naive but as someone on one of your earlier forums said: if we do not stand up for our Christian heritage, traditions and beliefs and it’s blessed founder then we are liable to lose the lot. This is quite a frightening thought!
    Steve Davis

  • Thanks Steve
    Yes all the things you mentioned we should be involved in, and then some. The main thing is to care, and be informed. God works through his people, so we have a lot of responsibilities in these areas.
    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Dear Bill,
    A brilliant article which everyone should read. Many modern parents are instilling in their kids, through lack of discipline and example that selfish individualism is the way to live their lives. The parents who are trying hard to discipline their children and teach by example have little hope against this powerful, all pervading influence. Society no longer supports them but it should do as you say. Laws have been changed to suit those who believe they have a right to do as they please regardless of anyone else. The liberal abortion laws we have in this country are only one manifestation of this. Since few have any religious beliefs confusion reigns about what is moral. For example the law allows abortion so it must be alright and is accepted in most people’s view. Society cannot be held together by selfish individualism or in Pope John Paul 2’s words, a culture of death. He wasn’t just referring to abortion when he coined the phrase. He meant selfish individualism in all its forms and this philosophy permeates everything now even in modes of parenting. Many parents are just too busy with their own selfish pursuits – extra marital affairs, careers etc to discipline or set a good example to their children.
    God Bless
    Patricia Halligan

  • To smack or not to smack is *not* the question. But discipline and consistency are the answer. I know first hand a fellow who’s father would beat him harshly when he was very disrespectful and naughty – now he’s an adult he said that he deserved it as he was a bit of a terror and that he’s thankful his father cared.

    In contrast I know of a woman who smacked her children as well as using a range of different discipline methods (some mentioned above), but due to her own immaturity wavered between selfish anger and trying to be their best friends. Her eldest daughter has run away and is in a sorry state, and her other two daughters I’ve avoided being around for years now.

    The first case was just discipline (even if somewhat heavy), and it was consistent. The second, in what I guess you’d call ‘socially acceptable disciplining’ was often unjust and very inconsistent, painfully so.

    Kids aren’t stupid. Kids learn by example. Kids constantly need to know they are loved, but kids also need to know clearly what the boundaries are – and these must not change with every whim or feeling. Parenting by ‘feelings’ is confusing and ultimately devastating.

    Garth Penglase

  • Oh and Patricia, I think you hit the nail on the head, and sadly the church is often no better. All I’d add is that a key to it all is the appalling rate of absent father’s caused by irresponsible men, messy divorces and selfish women, feminism, and until of more recent times the draconian custody rulings against men.
    Garth Penglase

  • Hello, my name is Michelle, and I was spanked as a child. I always knew my parents loved me; I saw the anguish in their face as by my disobedience they were forced to take things to the next level.

    I was never abused, but I was most definitely disciplined. In my school growing up, a private, Christian school, the strap was administered for punishment. I never got in trouble because I did not want that punishment!

    I have been back to that school now, and they have issues such as one child throwing a desk across the room at a teacher! There is no fear of discipline; his punishment was 600 lines. whoop dee doo. I wouldn’t be afraid of getting in trouble if I were him either.

    My sister and I have grown up with loving parents, who spanked us out of love, and I am grateful for the clear lines they drew for my life. Even though I spent a few years in rebellion, there was a certain line I never crossed with my parents, because I knew better. They instilled a proper amount of respect in me.

    I will discipline my children as well.

    Michelle Guillemaud, Canada

  • I’ve read a few Christian child rearing/training books and found the best by far is ‘To train up a child’ by Michael and Debi Pearl. I highly recommend this book for every parent or grandparent. A very practical guide to training and disciplining children.

    The Pearls’ also have a website:

    Mansel Rogerson

  • Hello Bill, I just wanted to mention a book that I think is absolutely key with regard to the spiralling incidence of bullying. It’s titled “Hold On to Your Kids – why parents need to matter more than peers”. Authors: Gordon Neufeld, Ph.D., and Gabor Mate, M.D.
    I bought a copy a few years ago in the USA (live in Brisbane) and have ordered copies and sent them off to quite a few folk. It covers the issues of peer orientation and peer attachment and I don’t think we will get on top of this epidemic until we understand the root of the problem. (I think I’m kind of paraphrasing one of the authors there!) Anyway please follow up if you can. I look forward to a book review.
    Kind regards and God bless.
    PS Always find your articles so excellent…
    Cara Whittred

  • Thanks Cara

    I will have to get a copy of that book. Thanks for the tip.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

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