I’ve often heard advocates of permissive parenting cite personal experience and observations to support their theory that strict parents cause their children to rebel. Of course, there are plenty of other parents who disagree and have seen permissive parenting fuel kids’ illegal and godless tendencies. Perhaps you’ve seen some of each. What’s a parent to do? Let’s take a moment to evaluate human reasoning, original rebellion, and parental responsibility, through the lens of the Word of God.
We need to humbly realize that as sinful humans, our perspectives and even our most rational judgments are flawed. Throughout the Old Testament, we see a description of many no-doubt well-meaning people who did “that which was right in their own eyes” (Deut. 12:8; Judges 17:6; 21:25; Job 32:1; Prov. 12:15; 21:2), a phrase that clearly expresses their actions that were contrary to God’s design.
Even our own hearts can deceive us (Jer. 17:9). Our opinions are hopelessly flawed. In order to interpret our experiences and find truth about any topic, we need to look at the Word of God, the Author of all Truth. God’s ideas aren’t just different from ours, they’re higher (Isaiah 55:8).
Let’s be clear about something: Each individual’s sin is his or her own responsibility. We all start out sinners (Psalm 51:5) by nature and actively choose to sin (Romans 3:23) against a holy God. Ever since the first humans sinned for the first time, we’ve been playing the blame game: Adam blamed Eve, who blamed the Serpent. But none of it washed. God held each of those sinners accountable and doled out consequences to each. While we often use phrases like “he made me so mad,” no one actually causes anyone else to sin; when a person sins, that sin is a product of his or her own sinful heart (Matt. 12:34).
While a teen who rebels is responsible for his or her own sinful attitudes and behavior, parents and other adults can certainly contribute to the temptations toward sin that young people face. A key verse regarding parental responsibility is Ephesians 6:4. It’s definitely a challenge to succeed at the balancing act of taking all three commands found in that verse:
• Don’t provoke them to wrath.
• Bring them up in God’s nurture.
• Bring them up in God’s admonition.
Strict parents can certainly provoke, or tempt, their children to respond in anger when they either unnecessarily restrict them, fail to explain rationale to them, or deal with them in a mean-spirited way. The Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:21-23) should be evident in all of our relationships, including (and perhaps especially!) our parenting.
The idea of nurturing our children brings out the idea of gentleness and tenderness. While strict parents can fail in those first two areas, more free-spirited personalities can fail to admonish them as God does. When teens can rebel against God but receive blessings from their parents, their parents are failing them. Like a good governmental system (I Peter 2:14), godly parents will punish what God hates and reward what God loves.