In a 1961 episode of Andy Griffith, a drifter who was hanging around Andy’s hometown of Mayberry had exerted some influence over Andy’s son, Opie. The drifter, while being confronted by Andy, told Andy that he should let Opie make his own decisions about life and how Opie wants to live.
Andy’s reply is a display of parenting wisdom.
You can’t let a youngun’ decide for himself. He’ll grab at the first flashy-with-shiny-ribbons-on-it-thing he sees. It’s difficult for him to tell the difference between right and wrong. When he finds out there’s a hook in it, it’s too late. The wrong kinds of things come packaged in so much glitter, it’s hard to convince him that the other thing might be better in the long run. All a parent can do is say, “Wait…trust me”…and try to keep temptation away.
Fast forward to 2023 and this type of wisdom is in short supply in our culture.
Instead, many in our culture believe we need to let our kids make their own decisions, without any input, challenge, or correction from the adults . . . parents included! Listen to Minnesota Lieutenant Governor, Peggy Flanagan: “When our children tell us who they are, it is our job as grown-ups to listen and to believe them . . . That’s what it means to be a good parent.” According to this elected official, a good parent merely listens and believes all children. There is no nuance in this statement, and it reflects the increasingly common ideology of unquestioned expressive individualism. That is, every individual, no matter their age, should define their own reality, including something like their gender. And parents, have no authority or permission to offer a corrective,
1. See the article by Jessica Chasmar entitled, “Minnesota Lt. Gov. ripped for saying parents must ‘believe’ when kids ‘tell us who they are’”
2. For the roots of this romantic approach to children, see Carl Trueman, Strange New World, chapter 2.
If a girl thinks she’s a boy, though genetically a girl, then the parent is slave to the child. They must do what she wants. And if, under the counsel or coercion of a teacher, physician, or YouTube influencer, that child wants to have top surgery, bottom surgery, or some combination of the two, the revolutionaries of our day tell parents they have no authority to challenge the child.
The problems are readily apparent, particularly in reference to children. What parent hasn’t dealt with a child who simply is not thinking clearly about a situation? Perhaps a girl thinks she is fat, so she makes herself vomit on a regular basis. Do we simply affirm her belief that though she weighs 80lbs, she is obese? If someone identifies as a worthless human being who is better off dead, do we affirm their self-hatred and usher them towards suicide?
Is it not a common thing for kids, and their wild imaginations, to dream about all sorts of fantastical realities? Are we not aware of how fickle the feelings of immature children can be?
The reality is, we all know that children are not ready to be let loose in the world on their own. Their fickleness is why we won’t allow them to drink alcohol until they are 21, or join the military until 18, or cast a vote for someone like Peggy Flanagan until they are legal adults. These types of decisions, and a myriad of others, require wisdom. Wisdom, however, usually accompanies maturity, and maturity takes time.
The Bible reminds us that children require discipline to drive foolishness from them. Proverbs 22:15 says, “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him.” Our desire, especially as parents, is to drive foolishness out and help our children cultivate wisdom for their good and joy. This requires discipline, both formative and corrective. Therefore, we try to show children what wisdom looks like. We exhort them to make good choices. And, when foolishness raises its ugly head, we correct in order that children will see how poor decisions can lead to destruction while the stakes are still small. In short, we do not sit idly by and watch kids live as fools.
In Hebrews 12:9–11, the writer reminds his readers of the discipline they received from their fathers. This parental discipline was for their good and garnered a level of respect for dad. That is, later in life children were able to look back and see how faithful their parents were! Simply put, there were expectations for living under the roof of your parents and as God’s people. Violating those standards meant there were consequences. Those consequences (i.e. discipline) aimed to teach young people right from wrong, wisdom from folly, and righteousness from unrighteousness. The idea of living however you wanted and parents bending to every wind of feeling and desire in their children is an idea that receives no commendation in Scripture.
You see, at certain points parents must oppose their child’s desires and point out the immaturity that resides in their young hearts. It is unloving to merely watch as they live unwisely.
Furthermore, in disciplining their children, parents model God’s fatherly discipline (cf. 12:10). Parents discipline their children now with the rod so that God doesn’t have to discipline them with the rod later (his rod is much bigger!). Though “no discipline seems pleasant at the time,” we are told that discipline “produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (12:11). So, yes, discipline is hard and painful. Spanking your child for wrongdoing causes internal emotional pain for parents and physical pain for the child. Taking privileges away from your kids isn’t fun. But the momentary and light affliction is preparing children to live faithfully in a fallen world.
Christians should lead the way in fighting against a culture that wants to allow the next generation to run headlong into sorrow. Because we love our youngest neighbors, we need to raise our voices. Wisdom, after all, cries aloud in the streets (Prov. 1:20). Our kids need to hear us tell them when they are getting ready to bite into a baited hook. Faithful parents will help their kids understand the depths of sin and how it has wreaked havoc on our minds and emotions (Rom. 3:10–18). Faithful parents will try to keep their kids from making life-altering, medically foolish, law-defying, and irreversible decisions. And, when kids inevitably make poor choices, even falling into sin, faithful parents will point their children to the gospel of Jesus Christ (John 3:16).
So we say to Lt. Governor Flanagan: no, faithful parenting does not mean letting children cast off restraint and live their lives free from parental oversight. Your way of parenting may be a delight to the ears of my ten year old, to be sure. But it is childish, not to mention dangerous, as Minor Attracted Persons continue to lobby for a place to have their ways with children.
Therefore, since we don’t live in Mayberry any longer, parents need to reject the wisdom of this age and the foolish counsel from state officials. Instead, the way of wisdom, maturity, and love calls for parental engagement, which sometimes means telling our kids, “Wait . . . trust me . . . [while we] try to keep temptation away” for your present good and everlasting joy.
After all, not everything that is a delight to the eyes is good for the soul.
Just ask Eve.