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 Others of a more introverted temperament may become withdrawn, discouraged and defeated, feeling like they can never measure up to our expectations.
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.
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?
Download our Whitepaper on Ten Things Parents Miss by Executive Director, Mark Massey. Click Here
Wondering if your teen needs to be away from home for awhile to get help? Read Mark's helpful guide on making this difficult decision. Click Here.
Watch a video on a Victory Kind of Life to learn more about Victory Academy for Boys. Click Here.
Click here to Contact us for counsel and help.
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.
Search for words you're interested in reading articles about
Author & Editor
Author and Editor
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.