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Truth and Consequences

September 14, 2019

When I was a boy (back in the dark ages, when nobody I knew had a color TV, and there were only 3 channels), right around supper time a show that my family loved to watch came on.  Decades before he was the host for The Price Is Right, Bob Barker hosted Truth or Consequences.  This half-hour show was wildly popular in the early- and mid-60s.  So popular, in fact, that a town in New Mexico changed its name to Truth Or Consequences.  Crazy, right?  But it happened.  Ask your grandparents…

On the TV show, people from the studio audience were selected to come on camera and answer a question.  Usually the questions were pretty hard and the answers were nostly guesses.  I remember once they asked husbands to blow up a balloon to the size they thought their wife’s waist was.  Pretty much no one got that one.

If your answer was wrong, you had to pay a consequence, which was usually a harmless but a little embarrassing gag or stunt.  It was situational comedy at its best.  We were sure it hadn’t been rehearsed or scripted, and at my house, we loved it.

Bob Barker moved on to other things and the show went through a series of other (most people though inferior) hosts until it finally went away in 1988.

Life is full of consequences.  When you make good decisions, you generally get good consequences.  When you make bad consequences, you generally get bad consequences.  You don’t need an advanced degree to get that.

Granted, sometimes the consequences take a long time to catch up to the decision.  You’ve known people who’ve made many bad (morally bad) decisions, but their life just keeps running on smoothly for a long time.  They keep getting raises and getting re-elected.  And people who’ve made good (morally right) decisions but just can’t seem to catch a break and get ahead.  It’s a bit of an enigma.  My best explanation is that eventually consequences catch up to choices, even when it may seem they don’t.

There was an old sermon preached by evangelists in the the last century titled, “Payday Someday.”  The point was that someday, every soul will be judged, and actions and choices will be laid bare.  A frightening thought.  Which was the point.  You’re toast without Jesus, because you’ll never get by with your own history of good choices and behavior when you have to face eternal judgment.  It probably wouldn’t be very well received these days, but there’s a significant nugget of truth in this often-fiery sermon.  More than a nugget, actually.

In families, there are always consequences for our choices.  Or there should be.  In healthy families, good choices should bring good consequences, and bad choices should bring negative consequences.  I believe the use of consequences is the most powerful tool a parent has for doing discipline.  With the remaining words I’ve given myself here, I want to unpack this a bit.

First of all, I want to make sure you know that discipline and punishment are not the same thing.  I often hear them referred to as the same.  To punish means that the one being punished experiences some sort of penalty or pain for having done or said something that breaks with the established rules.  Punishment could be something as simple as not getting something they want, a time-out, an unpleasant task being assigned.  In times gone by it would likely often have been something physical.  But the point of punishment isn’t to teach, it’s to create some kind of pain.

The point of discipline, on the other hand, is to teach.  The point of punishment is to get the child’s attention so that discipline can take place. That’s what the pain is supposed to do.  In this setting, discipline is teaching the child how to behave so that they don’t get the  pain of punishment.  “You don’t want to do that again, because if you do, you’ll get this same unpleasant punishment.  Do this _______________, instead.”  As a parent, your job is to fill in the blank, or to help your child fill it in with an appropriate alternative behavior.

Very often, punishment is meted out, but no discipline follows.  My experience is that in these cases, the punishment isn’t a very well thought-through vehicle, either.  It’s often a knee-jerk reaction to misbehavior.  Too often, it’s done in anger.  And when this is the case, all the child learns is that the parent is bigger and stronger, and because of this, should be feared.  But eventually that won’t be enough to make the child want to change their behavior.  Before it’s not enough to change a kid’s behavior, though, it will be enough to push them to resent the punisher.

There’s a ton more on this.  James Dobson’s book, Dare To Disciplineis the gold standard for this whole topic, in my opinion.  It was edited and re-released some years ago under the title, The New Dare To Discipline.  It’s worth buying and reading.  But be advised, there will probably be some things in it you won’t agree with.

After all that, what I really want to focus on is the use of consequences in discipline.  This will be on the test, so you’ll want to take notes…

Using consequences to teach (to discipline) is an “if, then” proposition.  If you do X, then you will get Y.  Where X is an appropriate behavior or choice, then Y should be a positive result.  Where X is an inappropriate behavior or choice (when it violates the rules), then Y should be a negative result.  It’s not rocket science (with apologies to aeronautical engineers).  The simple principle is that there are consequences in a healthy family.  Good consequences for good choices and behaviors.  Bad consequences for bad choices and behaviors.

There’s a fundamental assumption here that I haven’t stated, though.  For consequences to be useful, there have to be stated rules.  I almost wrote, “agreed upon rules.”  But the truth is, in a healthy home, there are times when children will not agree on the rules that the parents make.  This is called, to use the clinical term, normal.  The older the child is, as they mature, there can and should be dialogue about rules.  But when children are young, it’s the parents’ job to define and articulate the rules, and then enforce them.  It doesn’t need to be (in my opinion, shouldn’t be) a democratic process.  You don’t need a majority vote on it.

Parenthetically, the age at which a kid should give substantial input into the rule-making process is a fuzzy and moving target.  Every kid is a little different with this.  Some 10 year-olds are mature enough to do this, but there are some 14 year-olds who are not mature enough.  This is one of the many places I’m so thankful for James 1:5, If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.  You need God to give you wisdom to discern your kid’s maturity, so ASK.

I’m at my word limit.  I’ll get to the rest of this next time.

From → Marriage, Parenting

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  1. When Rules Get Broken | HomeworK with Steve Thomas

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