Are children's opinions unworthy of notice? Should their comments be habitually ignored? In other words, are children worthy of respect? Mutual respect is a vital key to any healthy relationship — especially the one between parents and children.
Because children start off in this world totally helpless and completely without any knowledge, parents sometimes view them as objects — and helpless objects at that. This is not to say that they are not loved, cared for, and affectionately cuddled. They may be. But since children are totally dependent upon them, many parents do not see their children as separate individuals. In other words, to a lot of adults, children are not really "people." The automatic supposition many make is that children have no personal worth of which to speak. They are objects to be seen, but are not actual persons worthy of being heard. After all, what can a child contribute? What good are his words?
The Fifth Commandment Expanded
The Bible has a lot to say about the status and worth of children and the treatment they should receive from adults. We are all familiar with the basic commandment, "Honor your father and your mother." It is one of the Ten Commandments stated in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. and is repeated in the New Testament by the apostle Paul and Jesus Christ Himself. Notice this Fifth Commandment as expounded in the book of Ephesians: "Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. Honor thy father and mother; which is the first commandment' with promise; that it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth" (Eph. 6:1-3). Here Paul applies it to children and says that they should obey their parents "in the Lord." But notice something further in verse 4. "And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord." Here we have a commandment for parents — that they should not provoke their children to wrath. The Greek word for " provoke" is defined as "make angry" (A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, Arndt and Gingrich, p. 635). In Colossians 3:21 Paul also says: "Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged." Here a different Greek word is used, which is likewise translated " provoke." This word is defined by the Arndt and Gingrich lexicon as "arouse, provoke (mostly in a bad sense), irritate, embitter" (p. 308). Some translators render Colossians 3:21 as, "Do not exasperate your children."
As adults we often have recourse when we are provoked. If a person has truly taken away our civil rights, perhaps we can regain them through the courts. If someone has slandered or libeled us, we may be able to obtain remuneration through lawsuits. Or if we are in the presence of someone who is constantly belittling, insulting or provoking us, we can simply leave. As adults we are generally free to pick and choose our relationships with people. But put yourself in the place of a child being provoked by his mother or father. Basically he is helpless — he has no recourse. If a parent robs his child of self-worth, provokes him to wrath, or irritates and exasperates him, the child feels nothing but total frustration and discouragement. He may develop a desire to run away from home, but if he does, he jeopardizes his basic security. Prior to teenage, it is difficult for him to be on his own. He has no financial resources and practically no ability to provide anything for himself. He is very much dependent upon his parents; provoked or not, he must stay with them. Besides, he may love his parents and wish to have a good relationship with them. The end result of parental provocation is a feeling of discouragement, exasperation and futility on the part of the child. It leads to harbored resentments and thoughts of revenge which the child sees no way of fulfilling.
The Principle of Reciprocity
In studying human relationships, sociologists have discovered the important principle of reciprocity. That
"Children, obey your parents in the lord: for this is right... And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the lord" (Eph. 6:1, 4).
is, we all have a tendency to treat others as they have treated us. When someone gives something to you, it is natural to feel a desire to give a gift in return. If a neighbor treats you with kindness, it is natural to want to treat him with kindness also. If someone is extremely courteous to you, you tend to express your best manners in his presence. If someone speaks to you with sarcasm and little digs and jabs, the natural tendency is for you to sharpen up your wits too. Jesus verified this principle of reciprocity in the Sermon on the Mount. He said: "For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? Do not even the publicans the same? And if you salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? Do not even the publicans so?" (Matt. 5:46-47.) Here Jesus is saying that the publicans naturally love the people who love them. They are acting out of the principle of reciprocity. The publicans salute the people who salute them, or greet the people who greet them.
Forces at Work
Whether parents realize it or not, the forces of reciprocity are at work in their own children. Children will tend to treat parents as parents have treated them. Or, seeing the futility of retaliation, they will treat someone else as their parents have treated them. Thus parents who are sarcastic, disrespectful, insulting and overdemanding will tend to have children who are also insulting, disrespectful and overdemanding to others. These "others" may be their playmates, teachers at school, or other "authority" figures in their lives which children substitute for their parents. So the principle of reciprocity is working in your children right now! It was at work in you when you were growing up. It shaped your attitude toward your own parents. It is pitiful and shameful that there are so many people who hate and despise their own parents. And it seems so hard to understand in many cases. You may meet two parents who appear to be very fine, upstanding people. On the surface it is difficult to understand why their children despise them or seek revenge or retaliation against them in attitudes and words. But as was explained earlier, many parents have a different attitude toward their children than they do toward adults. Most people treat another adult with respect. After all, if they don't, he's likely to break off the relationship. Since we don't like to lose friends, we cultivate them through appropriate behavior. We don't insult or belittle because as adults they are capable of sharp verbal retaliation and in some few cases may even resort to physical violence or "legal revenge" in a court of law. But with children, adults somehow seem to take a different point of view. Children don't seem to have any rights as far as grown-ups are concerned. Children don't need respect. Children should always "do as they're told," or "be seen and not heard," or "eat last," or "respect their elders." While some of these well-worn clichés are indeed based on good principles, they denote an overall attitude of respect in only one direction. Everyone needs self-respect and a feeling of self-worth. No one enjoys being humiliated, put down, squelched. Not even children! Many parents seem to want to belittle or take away the respect and self-worth of their children and still retain their children's respect, love and admiration. They usually find such a thing is impossible! (Of course, they don't think of it in these terms. They are not really conscious or aware of their actions when they don't treat their children with respect.)
Respect Begets Respect
There is perhaps nothing more overwhelming to a child than to have his parents treat him with honor and respect. Try it and see. Consider being hospitable to your own children. Think of their comfort and their welfare and talk to them in a tone of voice which conveys your respect for their person, their self-worth, and their God-given individual rights. If you show respect for their opinions and their knowledge, you are likely to see them reciprocate by showing respect for your opinions and knowledge.
Children will tend to treat parents as parents have treated them. Or, seeing the futility of retaliation, they will treat someone else as their parents have treated them. It is simply the principle of reciprocity.
But if you carelessly dismiss every suggestion your child makes as "silly" or "stupid" and not worthy even of consideration, the principle of reciprocity will be at work. Furthermore, you will be putting a lid on your child's creativity. Ask yourself whom you respect. Chances are you highly respect and admire people who treat you with respect. You want to please people who think well of you, honor you, hold you in high esteem. Are your children any different than you are? Young people are often amazed at how differently they are treated once they become adults. In fact, I have heard remarks from young people saying how amazed they were at the respect and honor they received once they were married. Or how once they left home and went to college, their parents looked at them as though they were real persons. Why can't this start much earlier in a child's life? Why can't he know that his parents look at him as a real person from birth onward? An unknown author wrote a poem entitled "Children Learn What They Live." It goes like this: If a child lives with criticism, he learns to condemn. If a child lives with hostility, he learns to fight. If a child lives with fear, he learns to be apprehensive. If a child lives with pity, he learns to feel sorry for himself. If a child lives with ridicule, he learns to be shy. If a child lives with jealousy, he learns to feel guilty. BUT — If a child lives with tolerance, he learns to be patient. If a child lives with encouragement, he learns to be confident. If a child lives with praise, he learns to be appreciative. If a child lives with acceptance, he learns to love. If a child lives with approval, he learns to like himself. If a child lives with recognition, he learns it is good to have a goal. If a child lives with honesty, he learns what truth is. If a child lives with fairness, he learns justice. If a child lives with security, he learns to have faith in himself and those above him. If a child lives with friendliness, he learns the world is a nice place in which to live. With what is your child living?
RECOMMENDED READING The following books contain valuable information about the parent-child relationship. Most or all are available at local bookstores and/or libraries.
Hide or Seek, James Dobson Children: The Challenge, Rudolph Dreikurs Between Parent and Child, Haim G. Ginott Between Parent and Teenager, Haim G. Ginott The Stork is Dead, Charles Shedd Parent Effectiveness Training, Dr. Thomas Gordon.