What Hurts Our Kids and What Helps Them

What type of parent are you? As hard as we try to be the “right” kind of parent, we usually find ourselves being something else. We over-function and overprotect. We fix our kids mistakes, cover their tracks with excuses, and worry endlessly about things they should be worrying about instead. Or, on the other hand, we make demands, bark orders and issue threats of punishment. We tell our children how to handle things, how to feel. We take over their problems by telling them what to do and what will happen if they don’t do it our way.

We do this all out of our best intent for our kids and, generally, because we were parented this way. But here’s the rub: Neither the over-functioning approach nor the demanding one will achieve what we truly want from our children.

The product we’re hoping to produce after 18 years of parenting is a young adult who has the courage to stand for his convictions and the responsibility to make good decisions and accept the consequences for them. But here’s what happens:

The Over-functioning Parent:

This parent rescues, makes excuses and overprotects. We use guilt to manipulate, and we use too many words. We give them few responsibilities and we whine, complain and act the victim when they don’t cooperate with us. We ignore the warning of Proverbs 19:19 which says, “…if you rescue him you will have to do it again.” The result of this type of parenting is that our children learn they are fragile, unable to think for themselves or take care of themselves. They learn they are weak and need to lean on us in order to handle the difficulties of life. They haven’t learned how to make good decisions because we’ve been making the decisions for them. And they haven’t learned how to accept consequences for poor choices because we’ve been covering their tracks for them.

The Demanding Parent:

This parent threatens punishment for not toeing the mark. We are controlling, critical and inflexible; we’re sometimes harsh, loud and almost always angry. We get in our kids’ faces with our fingers pointed at their chest and demand they do things our way. We offer no choices, only “you’d better…” or “you should…” We ignore the exhortation of Colossians 3:21 which says, “Fathers, do not embitter your children or they will become discouraged.” The result of this type of parenting is either a child who becomes discouraged and gives up, or a child who rebels. We’ve taught them that they’re too stupid to figure things out for themselves; that they will only make bad choices and mess things up. These children haven’t learned how to make good choices; their only choice has been to do what we tell them to do. And the only consequence they have ever dealt with is our anger, not a logical consequence coming from their own decision.

How can we do it differently? Here’s another category of parent:

The Authoritative Parent:

This parent understands that, from the earliest stages of childhood, giving a child choices and allowing him to struggle with the logical consequences of those choices is the way to teach responsibility. Discussing alternatives, sharing personal stories of success and failure, modeling responsibility are the most valuable tools an authoritative parent has. Authoritative parents are not unduly challenged by a child who professes a different system of faith or belief than his parents because these parents know a child must “try on” beliefs to see if they fit him. We support and empower our children in their decision-making, even when they make a choice we would not make (with loads of prayer!). We do this because we know that they will learn the best lessons when they make mistakes (age-appropriate mistakes, but mistakes, nonetheless). When a child is young, this may mean letting him choose what to wear to school on a cold day and then not rescuing him when he calls at recess asking you to drive to school with his jacket. When your child is older, you might give her an annual clothing allowance and allow her to spend it however she wishes, but not rescue her when she absolutely HAS to have a new dress for prom but no money left to buy one. (Yes, this will be hard for you to do. But oh, the lesson to be learned about planning and budgeting!) The authoritative parent remembers that “The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.” (Psalm 103:8) We remember that our compassionate empathy with the painful consequences of a poor choice will teach our children that we are FOR them, and believe they are strong enough to get through this hard thing. An authoritative parent’s style says, “I trust that you are smart enough to make good decisions, so I’ll give you the freedom to do so. You are important to me and I will love you no matter what – even if you make mistakes.”

Funny. Doesn’t this sound just like a Savior we know?


  1. I had parents who were abusive in almost every sense of the word. The ability to look at things in an objective way (as, their part of the problem) was incomprehensible to them. My life has been crippled to this day (I’m 55). These tagging different issues are right on, but they don’t address the long-term damage that they cause.

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