Though it’s been many years since I was a student in an all-boys school, one particular incident remains vividly imprinted in my mind.

It was the last period of the day, and my math teacher was trying to control the restless and noisy class of 14-year-olds. My friends and I were trying to entertain ourselves with boisterous jokes and funny comments about the boring lesson.

All of a sudden, the teacher—a stern, elderly man—called me up and made me stand outside the class. But the punishment didn’t deter me; I continued with my shenanigans while standing in the corridor. It got to a point that my teacher had to stop his lesson and ask me: “Are you a rascal?”

Sensing that I was being challenged, I defiantly replied: “Yes!”

That was the last straw. My teacher promptly marched me to the principal’s office, where the consequences of my childish pranks dawned upon me: I would be caned there and then. The reason? Insubordination. After explaining the reason for my caning, the principal proceeded to discipline me with not one, but two strokes on my backside.

Aside from feeling the immediate pain, a deep sense of shame and humiliation washed over me. I bore a deep grudge against the teacher who caused my “humiliation”; and felt ashamed each time I met and greeted my principal.

Yet, this caning episode kept me quiet and attentive for the rest of the school year. I even passed math, which had always been an intimidating subject for me!

When it was time to part with my alma mater two years later, I was surprised by my regard for my teacher and principal. Looking back, I was grateful for what they had done for me. When I met them years later, I could relate to both gentlemen with a newfound respect and fondness.


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A Biblical Perspective of Discipline

The moral of the story?

Correcting our children’s behaviour is not about bribing or threatening them. Rather, Christian educator and author Howard Hendricks cautions parents to mete out firm, loving, and, at times, painful discipline.

“Your primary concern is not what your children think of you now, but what they will think 20 years from now,” he once quipped.

These days, however, it seems like the subject of physical discipline is so controversial that some parents hesitate in taking out the rod.

We may have heard stories of children who run away from home, have mental health issues, or bear grudges against their parents—all because of their harsh physical discipline methods. This may have frightened some well-intentioned parents, who don’t want their children to interpret their discipline as a sign of their disapproval, and to turn against them one day.

Amid the current cultural trends and societal expectations, let’s look at what Scripture says to us parents about discipline.

1. Disciplining Children is Commanded by Scripture

Whoever spares the rod hates their children,
but the one who loves their children
is careful to discipline them.
—Proverbs 13:24

Many of us parents would likely have come across this verse before, and others like it. In this context, the writer says a parent who withholds physical discipline hates his child—because it allows him to continue in his folly. On the other hand, a parent who’s motivated by love for his child will be “careful” to discipline him.

The biblical view of loving our child commands discipline.

But why is this so important? Proverbs 19:18 instructs: “Discipline your children, for in that there is hope; do not be a willing party to their death.” Unlike most proverbs, which are declarative in nature, this verse is an imperative—it is a command that warns parents to chastise their children in their early years, while there is still hope for them.

On the flipside, parents who choose to spare the rod may be complicit in contributing to their “death”, whether by capital punishment from a crime or the natural consequences of foolish behaviour. As Proverbs 1:32 warns: “For the waywardness of the simple will kill them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them.”

The biblical view of loving our child commands discipline.

2. Loving Discipline is Not Cruelty

Have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement
that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says,

“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,
and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
because the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children.
For what children are not disciplined by their father? . . .
They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best;
but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness.
No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful.
Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace
for those who have been trained by it.
—Hebrews 12:5–7, 10-11

Parents who discipline their children don’t punish them to torture or hurt them for the sake of it, but they discipline their children for their own good—to correct, train, and cultivate in them godly character. The Hebrews writer likens the discipline of an earthly father to that of our Heavenly Father, who disciplines us out of love so that we can share in His holiness, and one day reap a “harvest of righteousness and peace” (v. 11).

Discipline must be corrective, not punitive, and communicated in love to our children.

As parents, we need to seek to communicate the motivation behind our discipline, as a “word of encouragement” to them (v. 5), so that our children know that we do so out of love. Otherwise, all our children may remember is the pain inflicted by our rod, without understanding how they have done wrong, or why we have disciplined them in this manner.

Discipline must be corrective, not punitive, and communicated in love to our children.

3. Discipline Drives Away Foolishness

Folly is bound up in the heart of a child,
but the rod of discipline will drive it far away.
—Proverbs 22:15

Foolishness, or folly, has the basic meaning of “perversity”. Every child is born with an inherently sinful nature, as Psalm 51:5 observes: “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.”

We don’t have to teach our children to do wrong—they come by it naturally. Our children may appear cute, but they are still cute sinners!

Foolishness and sinfulness are so bound up in a child’s heart that, as parents, we have to exercise the loving affliction of pain to drive it far from him. Of course, this must be done judiciously, wisely, and lovingly.

This is what some teenagers have said about their experience of being disciplined on reflection:

“Dear Mum and Dad, I know you discipline me so I won’t learn the wrong things, but too much discipline and my skin grows thick.”

“Don’t make me feel smaller than I am. It only makes me act big!”

“Don’t correct me in front of people if you can help it. I’ll take more notice if you talk quietly with me in private.”

“I may talk back when I’m disciplined but I will reflect on your words after that.”

“Obey some rules, relax on certain strict ones, can?”

“Don’t protect me from consequences, I need to learn from my mistakes.”

“Your nagging puts me off and I have learnt to ignore your words.”

“When I know I’m wrong, I’ll listen to you.”

“When I’m wrongly accused, I feel very angry, I give you silent treatment. But your honest apology makes me feel surprisingly warm toward you.”

“Discipline is very important. It’s a form of love.”

“Without discipline, I will go astray.”

These comments show us that many teenagers actually do understand the need for biblical, loving discipline, and even crave for the benefits that such discipline offers.

Parents who connect well with their teens generally tend to have less disciplinary problems at home.

In my experience, parents who connect well with their teens generally tend to have less disciplinary problems at home, whereas parents who hardly communicate with their teens inevitably face setbacks in disciplining them.

As parents, therefore, we must not be afraid to discipline our children—but at the same time, we must prayerfully and carefully communicate our love in all situations.


This article was first published in Age of Opportunity, a publication of Singapore Youth For Christ, and is adapted with permission.


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