The Bible reminds parents and specifically dads not to provoke their children. Ephesians 6:4 says, "Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord." What does it mean here when it says not to provoke your child to anger? The phrase "do not provoke your children to anger" basically means not to do things that cause them to be irritated, frustrated or even enraged. We (especially dads) have to be constantly aware of our actions and our child's reaction to make sure this is not occurring. It is important to remember that anger and frustration can show itself differently in our children based on their personalities. Some may actually become enraged and yell, cuss or even fight. Others of a more introverted temperament may become withdrawn, discouraged and defeated, feeling like they can never measure up to our expectations.
We came across a great article by Pastor John MacArthur highlighting 8 ways that parents may be irritating children and not even realize it. Here are the 8 ways from Dr. MacArthur.
1) Well–meaning overprotection is a common cause of resentment in children. Parents who smother their children, overly restrict where they can go and what they can do, never trust them to do things on their own, and continually question their judgment build a barrier between themselves and their children—usually under the delusion that they are building a closer relationship. Children need careful guidance and certain restrictions, but they are individual human beings in their own right and must learn to make decisions on their own, commensurate with their age and maturity. Their wills can be guided but they cannot be controlled.
2) Another common cause of provoking children to anger is favoritism. Isaac favored Esau over Jacob and Rebekah preferred Jacob over Esau. That dual and conflicting favoritism not only caused great trouble for the immediate family but has continued to have repercussions in the conflicts between the descendants of Jacob and Esau until our present day! For parents to compare their children with each other, especially in the children’s presence, can be devastating to the child who is less talented or favored. He will tend to become discouraged, resentful, withdrawn, and bitter.
Favoritism by parents generally leads to favoritism among the children themselves, who pick up the practice from their parents. They will favor one brother or sister over the others and will often favor one parent over the other.
3) A third way parents provoke their children is by pushing achievement beyond reasonable bounds. A child can be so pressured to achieve that he is virtually destroyed. He quickly learns that nothing he does is sufficient to please his parents. No sooner does he accomplish one goal than he is challenged to accomplish something better. Fathers who fantasize their own achievements through the athletic skills of their sons, or mothers who fantasize a glamorous career through the lives of their daughters prostitute their responsibility as parents.
I once visited a young woman who was confined to a padded cell and was in a state of catatonic shock. She was a Christian and had been raised in a Christian family, but her mother had ceaselessly pushed her to be the most popular, beautiful, and successful girl in school. She became head cheerleader, homecoming queen, and later a model. But the pressure to excel became too great and she had a complete mental collapse. After she was eventually released from the hospital, she went back into the same artificial and demanding environment. When again she found she could not cope, she committed suicide. She had summed up her frustration when she told me one day, “I don’t care what it is I do, it never satisfies my mother.”
4) A fourth way children are provoked is by discouragement. A child who is never complimented or encouraged by his parents is destined for trouble. If he is always told what is wrong with him and never what is right, he will soon lose hope and become convinced that he is incapable of doing anything right. At that point he has no reason even to try. Parents can always find something that a child genuinely does well, and they should show appreciation for it. A child needs approval and encouragement in things that are good every bit as much as he needs correction in things that are not.
5) A fifth way provocation occurs is by parents’ failing to sacrifice for their children and making them feel unwanted. Children who are made to feel that they are an intrusion, that they are always in the way and interfere with the plans and happiness of the parents, cannot help becoming resentful. To such children the parents themselves will eventually become unwanted and an intrusion on the children’s plans and happiness.
6) A sixth form of provocation comes from failing to let children grow up at a normal pace. Chiding them for always acting childish, even when what they do is perfectly normal and harmless, does not contribute to their maturity but rather helps confirm them in their childishness.
7) A seventh way of angering children is that of using love as a tool of reward or punishment—granting it when a child is good and withdrawing it when he is bad. Often the practice is unconscious, but a child can sense if a parent cares for him less when is he disobedient than when he behaves. That is not how God loves and is not the way he intends human parents to love. God disciplines His children just as much out of love as He blesses them. “Those whom the Lord loves He disciplines” (Heb. 12:6). Because it is so easy to punish out of anger and resentment, parents should take special care to let their children know they love them when discipline is given.
8) An eighth way to provoke children is by physical and verbal abuse. Battered children are a growing tragedy today. Even Christian parents—fathers especially—sometimes overreact and spank their children much harder than necessary. Proper physical discipline is not a matter of exerting superior authority and strength, but of correcting in love and reasonableness. Children are also abused verbally. A parent can as easily overpower a child with words as with physical force. Putting him down with superior arguments or sarcasm can inflict serious harm, and provokes him to anger and resentment. It is amazing that we sometimes say things to our children that we would not think of saying to anyone else—for fear of ruining our reputation!
You can read more from Dr. MacArthur on this subject by clicking here. John Piper also has some great thoughts on this particular verse as well. Read that here.
We hope this article has been a blessing to you. If so, here are some other articles from Victory Academy for Boys you may find helpful as well.
Read more helpful articles from Mark Massey and the staff:
How We Help Parents at Victory Academy
10 Conversation Starters for You and Your Teen
Why We All Need Counseling
Victory Academy for Boys - A Well Kept Secret For Too Long
Does Our Family Need Victory Academy or Some Other Help Outside our Home?
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Our teens often struggle with reality. In essence, reality is what is true. Reality is what is factual. When we break it down to essential and unchanging truth, we are then talking about God's truth. God's truth is eternal and unchanging. It flinches or gives way to no one. The culture continually seeks to give our teens a false reality through lies about what is real. Lies about God. Lies about his truth. Satan is behind this strategy. He always has been, since that day in the Garden of Eden. He is good at what he does. That fact coupled with youthful ignorance and our teen's easily deceived sinful heart results in bad thinking.
Whether that false reality is related to laziness, popularity, authority, sex or a hundred other things, false beliefs about reality are nothing more than Satan's lies covered with new garb. These lies about what is real, what is true, results in bad thinking. Bad thinking results in bad actions. While our hearts can be "deceitful and desperately wicked," sometimes our hearts aren't so much the issue as the thinking. Often we want to see the two as one, and it is, sort of. The Bible tells us, "as a man thinks in his heart, so is he." It seems that there is a distinction that the heart (inner man) is where man does his "thinking." That thinking is what results in the kind of man he is. It is like the thinking results in how and what values are placed on certain things. We see this distinction when new guys are placed with us at Victory Academy for Boys. Many times the teens come through our doors ticked off and despondent toward their parents. It is easy to presume that there are heart problems, and often is the case. However, upon really talking "heart to heart" with them, many want a good relationship with their parents and even with God, but they don't really think maturely about the connections of how they are thinking and the resulting impact of living out that thinking on their relationships and the corresponding trust, freedom, and honor.
"upon really talking "heart to heart" with the guys in the Academy, many want a good relationship with their parents and even with God"
As parents we often prefer what looks to be the easy way of parenting; tell the child what to do and he does it. That is simple, but only effective as long as you stand there and wield power over him. The first-time parent learns that at some point before his little man hits 2 that this method is going to begin to show serious signs of failure. Accept it and get to the work of parenting. While obedience is foundational for the early years to help establish the understanding of authority structure and crucial for gaining experience in truth, by the time you enter the double digits, the real work is figuring out how to help the child become a good thinker.
The goals that we have in our parenting need to be wrapped around helping our children fall in love with truth, and ultimately we want them to learn to love the God of Truth. 1 John 2:15 holds an interesting command, "do not love." Similarly, Deuteronomy 6:4 commands, "you shall love." The significance of this is that we (along with our children) are commanded to think a certain way so as to result in a choice to do a certain thing, a certain deep and personal thing: love. Not only are we to love, but we are to love God, and to love Him supremely! We are to love Him differently, with an intensity that forms a grid whereby we consider (think) all else to be less-- less important, less desirable.
How do we teach ourselves, much less our children to think like this (warning, this could get convicting)? The key to thinking correctly is truth. Christ taught in John 8 that he was truth, and that abiding (living) in His truth sets us free (from sin). While smoking cigarettes may look like a good thing (millions are spent to help us come to that conclusion), truth is it isn't. It may feel great to yell and scream at your child, truth is it isn't. Harboring bitterness may seem like the best way to get even, but the truth is bitterness eats at YOU. When we really see truth as the truth, we don't fall for the lies. We have to teach our teens to think TRUTH....Biblical Truth about life.
Certainly we are in a life-long process of growing a stronger trust in truth, thus choosing more often, to respond to the compulsion to love God above all else. Do we make our walk with truth and the God of Truth compelling or repelling? Do those around us see the truth we claim making our lives and our interaction with others desirable? Considering our children, how are we making truth (His Word) central in our family. Where is truth applied to our decisions throughout our day? When it is applied is it done positively so they see the desirability of the resulting fruit of righteousness? Is the power of this truth evident in a way that they are developing a passion (intense desire) for personally "owning" (taking responsibility for) truth?
To think correctly, we must come to the right conclusions of what is right, correct, true, really what is more lovable. Before you cry "simplistic," think. What we love is a choice and what we love is what we think about. The more we see truth, the more we will see its power, and the more desirable it will be. The more we learn to love it and teach or kids love it, the more they will think about it. Adding to this, the ministry of the Holy Spirit in their lives, truth begins to take permanent hold in their daily thoughts.
Give me a little liberty to paraphrase a famous Proverb (22:7) on parenting, Train up a child in truth, and he will never forget it.
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Tucked into one of the most common Scriptures on parenting is a foundational truth that is often overlooked. Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Usually we either focus on “the way he should go,” or on “when he is old he will come back to God (so don’t worry about his choices as a teenager). Sometimes we focus on the “train up” procedures themselves. Whatever our focus as we attempt to interpret and apply this verse, many of those whose children “turned out” read this verse and have feelings of smugness at their success. Others whose children didn’t “turn out” ponder this verse with feelings of guilt or shame. Those who are facing a teen in rebellion sometimes cling to this verse in the hopes that they will someday come back to God.
Rather than get hung up on how this verse makes us feel, or whether this proverb is meant to be a concrete truth or a general principle, I would like to zero in on one key element of the training spoken of in this verse, the trainer and his training. The subject of the training is elementary. It is training in righteousness. That most certainly is “the way he should go.” But what that training looks like is seldom pondered, and thus seldom practiced.
If we can understand what that training is to look like, the rest of the verse becomes much clearer. We know the subject of the training is holiness/righteousness. That certainly is “the way he should go.” The question is how do we go about the process of training? This is the only instance in Scripture where the Hebrew word hanak is translated “train up.”[i] It is usually translated “dedicate.” The literal root meaning of the word is to narrow. When used in the context of dedicating/initiating buildings it means to narrow down the use of the building to a specific use, such as a temple or palace. This is the only verse where the word is referring to an action taken on a person. It is interesting that the other places it is used it has to do with consecration, dedication, initiation. The concept found in this word is that of narrowing the child’s thinking in such a way that he chooses the right way to go. By putting this training into its historical context, it takes on a much more comprehensive and colorful meaning than the simplistic interpretations that see the training to mean to “stimulate desire,” or even to nurture, and discipline. Though “training” certainly includes those ideas, many times the power is taken from this Scripture by thinking of this training so simply. The training is often glanced over and the “promise” of a great, spiritual child is grabbed.
Looking back into this historical/cultural context we can see that a parent in Israel probably would not have taken the “training” to be simply something that just happened. This “training” is active (as opposed to passive), and required special effort from the trainer. Perhaps Solomon is using this word to cause the people to connect the job of parenting to the great amount of work and commitment it took to build the Temple. The Temple was very carefully built. It was tedious construction. A lot of sweat went into it. This same concept could be used when talking about the training of a soldier who is put through a rigorous process that results in his being equipped and dedicated to military service. That kind of training requires that the trainer, or builder have the experience of life in those things he is teaching. He must also have good stamina, the endurance to stay at it to the end. He must also have a high level of personal commitment to the end product, be that the development and commissioning of the soldier or the completion and dedication of a building. Buildings are built with sweat and effort. Soldiers are readied for battle with a great amount of sweat and effort poured into their training.
Taking this understanding of the trainer into the spiritual realm, the parent who desires to train and/or dedicate his child to live God’s way must have those same elements of spiritual experience, spiritual stamina, and spiritual commitment. These are all needed because it takes a lot of holy sweat and effort on the part of the parents to see the child grow up to serve God with all his heart. We will need to experience a walk with God that compels our children to follow along in their own spiritual journey. Time spent with God’s Word and in prayer is a priceless element in the parenting equation. How could we expect to have stamina (endurance) in our spiritual lives if we aren’t growing spiritually through the power of the Word and prayer? Our spiritual experience has a lot to do with our spiritual endurance. Our children watch us. They know what we are committed to. They know what we are passionate about. There should be no doubt in their minds that you are passionate about spiritual things. We should be so passionate about spiritual things that we are committed to the pursuit of spiritual growth in our own lives first. Our pursuit of our own spiritual growth should foster a commitment to our children’s spiritual growth. That commitment should be unwavering. There should be no TV, vacation, house, car, or job that compromises our commitment to spiritual growth. Experience, stamina, and commitment are vital elements in being prepared to train up our children.
There are late night talks and prayer. There are hours of prayer for the wellbeing of a child. A plan for instruction in righteousness takes time and energy to develop and implement. There will be many hours of comfort sacrificed for the spiritual and relational wellbeing of the children. It will take time, lots of time. Someone once said, “I have pictures of my children in my wallet where I used to have money.” It will cost financially. Ultimately it costs us. We must give of ourselves in this process of training up our children. “Training,” as a concept in Proverbs 22:6 is more about how we train than about what we train. The how is by holy sweat. The what is “the way he should go.”
[i] Gleason Archer, Jr. in Exposition of Specific Passages in the Book of Proverbs elaborates on some of these points.
Here's more that you may find helpful.
For most parents when their children are young it is easy to have a close relationship. Hugs, prayer time, the words "I love you" all come very easily with young children. However as the teen years advance, relationships between parent and child can suffer. Whether a father and daughter who rightfully find close affection a bit more awkward or a father and son who have a growing difference in interests, or perhaps it is a mom who is struggling to allow her "little boy" to find the independence of being a young man, parent / teen relationships can be complicated at times. However as parents continue to find the need to exercise control over their teenagers with rules, standards and limitations, relationships becomes all the more important.
Loving relationships are the glue that hold families together and help smooth over the arguments, struggles and growing pains that every family faces during those teenage years. The principles of the Bible apply at home just as they do in relationships at work and church. Principles of love in 1 Cor. 13 such as thinking no evil, assuming the best, not holding grudges etc. need to be adhered to. There are many other relationship principles as well such as the principles of reconciliation found in Matthew 5 and other places. We can study principles such as "Don't let the sun go down on your anger, don't let your anger lead to sin." (Eph. 4:26) and so many more that can and should be found.
Take time to build relationships. Find common ground and utilize it. Go out for coffee or shakes (food is almost always common ground) watch sports together, learn to play a video game. Perhaps you hunt or fish, sew or bake, whatever you can find to engage in with the goal of building the relationship, do it!
Don't only spend time when there is an issue. Make "deposits" in their lives as often as you can by spending that time with them, saying "I love you" or sending them a text from across the room letting them know you're proud of them. These deposits allow you to make "withdrawals" and yet not damage the relationship when there are disagreements or discipline issues.
If rules and regulations are enforced in a teen's life without an on-going love infused relationship, rebellion will be the result.
What ways have you nurtured and enhanced the relationship with your teen lately? Why not shoot them a text right now and invited them for ice cream soon?
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Even with examples laid out before us it is still difficult at times to know exactly what to do and say to get our teens to listen and really hear Truth. Though it may be possible to force a person to physically hear, the most powerful impact (influence) on a person’s thinking requires some kind of connection or relationship. Proverbs 20:5 teaches that people of understanding will “draw out” the deep things going on in the hearts of others.
When a teen lies to you, you have a few options, including ignore it, yell at him, or lay down consequences. There may be times when each of those options seem appropriate. I find that a fourth response is best in the long run.
Identify with his motivations and connect him with Truth. I think it is healthy to admit that none of us are very far away from any particular sin. Many times it is very difficult for teens to accept correction or responsibility for their actions when it is so easy to point the finger at some flaw in their parent, or pastor, or sibling (or whoever is applying the pressure at the moment). Biblically the key to solving strife (relational conflict) is humility and truth. That is well stated in Ephesians 4:15 as truth wrapped in love. Wrapping truth in love provokes thinking about motivations of the heart, at least in-part, because when acting in humility and love we take attacking and offending out of the picture and join with them in the discussion of truth. Biblical truth becomes the light in the situation and does the work of revealing the heart. As a parent I am then freed up to love and help them (sometimes with consequences) learn how to implement truth in their actions.
Mark Massey is director of Victory Academy for Boys, Amberg, Wisconsin. Take a look at VictoryAcademyForBoys.org
One of the struggles we face as we work with our teenagers is pushing our great wisdom on them at the moment of their struggle. While sometimes it is crucial to parent “in the moment,” many times they just aren’t ready to hear it. They just made a decision to think a certain way and you are telling them that their thinking is wrong. That is hard for all of us to hear. Proverbs 20:5 is my go to verse that challenges me to be patient, kind, and as understanding as possible in an effort to have my teen open his heart. Stepping back and letting the dust settle often reveals a door of opportunity to discuss the deep things of his heart. The problem arises when our idols get in the mix and we get offended or impatient and begin to demand their change or belief in what “great wisdom” we have to say.
Truth is that most, or at least many times our teens know what is right and wrong, the difficulty is found in learning how to go against feelings and live what is right. The flesh is just so powerful and they are at a stage of life where feelings and limited knowledge foment deficiencies in their decision making.
Take a step back. Wait a bit. Remember that almost all problems can be given a little time. Think through your own version of their struggle and pray for God’s wisdom to find that right moment to positively challenge their thinking. You are their mentor, God’s influencer for Him.
Victory Family Ministries
We're a group of folks who love helping teens and families. We also love learning and sharing what God has taught us in our over 50 cumulative years of working with families and teens.