Until I read Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Ted Tripp, I’d never even heard of Christian parenting including an appeal process. After all, children should be taught to submit to parental authority without question, right? Tripp certainly advocates training to that end, particularly in chapter 14 (summarized in this blog post), the same chapter in which he broaches the topic of allowing for an appeal process for teens. In fact, an overarching guideline for accepting an appeal is stated as follows: “The parent can change his mind in the context of respectful appeal, but not in the presence of blatant rebellion.”
Alternatives to Thoughtful Appeals
At first, when I read about this idea, I really wasn’t sure what to think. My mind concocted images of the Huxtable “family court” which suited the sitcom aim of entertainment well but seemed inappropriate for biblical decision-making. My mind then conjured up images of dysfunctional families arguing with Judge Judy or Phil Donahue to intervene.
My own experience on the child side of the equation wasn’t what I wanted for my kids either, though: I had to submit, no questions asked. Did I submit? Sure. But my motivation and attitude was quite different from what I want for my own children, so my parenting must take a different posture, too. It will require the kind of humble disposition and thoughtful consideration with which we all like to be treated.
As I continued to ruminate about this kind of idea, I realized that the inclusion of an appeal process was not only consistent with a heart-focused model of biblical parenting that Tripp champions: It may be necessary for such an approach.
Realistic Humility of Parents
An appeal process certainly isn’t the only way for parents to exercise humility, but it’s a huge one. By allowing children to appeal what they deem to be unrealistic expectations, unnecessary restrictions, or unwarranted punishments, parents provide limitations to their authority. Such self-limiting demonstrates self-realization of imperfection: Not only do parents sometimes make poor judgment calls or emotional decisions, but they also have limited perspectives. Sometimes rash decisions are made without all the pieces to the puzzle in view, and when more information is communicated, parents will change their minds. In addition, simply allowing for an appeal process can actually work with parental pride to help deter them from situations in which children will request an appeal.
Open Communication and Empathy
The appeal process gives the teen a motivation and opportunity to respectfully communicate frustration with an authority figure, a valuable life skill. It also establishes a household atmosphere of open communication and empathy that can reach past the particular judgment call or conflict into the heart of your child. As a parent, even if I do decide to “stick to my guns,” I can use this opportunity to connect with my son and offer empathy for his frustration.
As parents and teens learn to communicate better, their relationships with one another will benefit, and the home will achieve an atmosphere of empathy and openness that glorifies our Lord.