Family physician, psychologist and author Leonard Sax has a message for all moms and dads: You are doing it wrong. He addresses the problems parents are left with when they do not teach their kids how to submit to authority in his new book, The Collapse of Parenting: How We Hurt Our Kids When We Treat Them Like Grown-Ups.
The root of the problem is that “Some parenting experts told adults that they should offer their children choices instead of telling them what to do and parents believed them,” according to Sax. He recounts administering a strep test to a 6-year-old. The doctor told the child what was about to happen and the mother stopped to ask her child for permission to look at the child’s throat. Chaos ensued, the child threw a fit, several health professionals were called in to help restrain the youngster and a simple procedure that should have taken ten seconds turned into an ordeal. Sax’s response: “It’s not a question. It’s a sentence: ‘Open up and say, ‘Ahh.’ Parents are incapable of speaking to their children in a sentence that ends in a period… Every sentence ends in a question mark.”
Our culture has shifted from children understanding their places—and parents knowing their roles—to a homogenous, politically correct think tank that experiments with each new generation. We keep changing the rules, hoping to eventually get it right, running endless tests to see if we have the results “the experts” want. When moms and dads step down from their responsibility to parent their children, our society is in trouble. Sax refers to an abundance of research showing the negative effects of this shift, including rises in childhood obesity, anxiety, attention deficit disorder, disrespect, and America no longer leading the way in worldwide education.
Parents perpetuate the problem when we do not teach our offspring to submit to authority. While Sax offers up some everyday practices to reverse this problem, I think this issue is going to require a systemic shift in childrearing philosophy. We have to change our thinking if we want to change the thinking of our children. When we model submission, we teach them to yield to the authority figures in their own lives.
See next page for 5 ways you can model submission to your kids:
1. Teach your kids to respect their elders.
One simple way to do this is to assume the formal greeting when interacting with adults. “Buddy, this is Mr. Jones. Say hello to Mr. Jones,” communicates to your children that this is someone who will be treated with respect.
2. Keep your conflicts with authority away from your children.
If all your kids hear are complaints about your boss, how can they be expected to respect their boss twenty years from now? That important lesson can be learned today.
3. Help your kids lose gracefully.
There will always be someone better, smarter, more athletic, or more charismatic. People cheat. Rules get changed. There are a million reasons why our children will experience failure at some point in their lives. Learning to respond in a graceful way when the inevitable losses come is an important life skill.
4. View disagreements with coaches as learning opportunities.
Mama Bears everywhere have the gut reaction of championing their child’s cause at the first sign of injustice: “Your coach made you sit the bench, and instead played their favorite? I will not quit until he is fired!” But if we REALLY want to teach our kids to submit to authority, we have to teach them how to endure even an unfair situation. We can teach our kiddos to respond in a respectful way, to continue working hard even if it goes unnoticed, and teach them to live a life of integrity.
When a referee makes the wrong call, athletes from peewee leagues to the pros all have to submit to them. They can lose their tempers and get ejected, whine to the umpire, or just deal with it and move on.
5. Show your children they can trust God’s plan.
Ultimately the childhood years are our training ground for adult life. For Christian parents, this means that Romans 8:28-29 is true: God does cause all things to work together for good for those who love Him. Even when wronged by a coach, a teacher, or a trusted adult friend, there are lessons to be learned that will allow our children to help others in the future. Nothing happens by accident, and even our most difficult times or longest seasons of struggling with authority can be used for good in the long run. We can find comfort in our Maker’s plan.
Teaching kids to submit to authority is one of our biggest jobs as parents. It transfers to the classroom, the baseball field, family life and the office. Start today to teach your children this lasting lesson that will impact our future generations in ways that are not just theoretical. It is time for parents to remember our role in the home. While being your child’s friend may seem fun and acquiescing to their demands may seem easier in the short-term, we do our children a great disservice when we neglect to train them to submit to those in authority.
There is still time. Start modeling submission in your own life today and your kids will learn what it means to submit to authority. Maybe then we will see things like childhood obesity, teen anxiety, and disrespect begin to dissipate. It all starts in our homes.