[Week 40 of 52 Weeks to a Better Relationship With Your Child]
How to start putting authority in perspective
People tend to have two equally unhelpful, extreme views toward authority.
- Some people try to say there is no legitimate authority.
- Others basically deny that any claim of authority can be disregarded.
Understanding the concept and application of authority has important implications for parents.
Parents and their children will benefit greatly if parents have carefully thought about authority. At the core are two questions:
- Is authority ever legitimate?
- How is rebellion defined?
The dictionary definition of rebellion is not very helpful to this discussion, because all the sources I read simply defined rebellion as violent resistance against whatever power structure is in place. But most people have a sense of legitimate versus illegitimate authority.
Christians, in particular, often struggle with how to respond to anyone who claims authority. There are places in the Bible that speak of God at least allowing the worldly powers that exist. However, I think asking one question reminds us to look at the whole scenario: Can just anyone claim authority over our children?
Do governments have authority over children?
Unfortunately, it is common for the governments of this world to claim that they have the final say over how children are taken care of. Yet parents around the world will almost all claim a greater right to decide what happens to their children. They cooperate with governments to the extent required, usually to keep children from being taken away from the home.
Since the Bible also makes it clear that God considers parents to be responsible for and in charge of their children, it becomes obvious that even from a Biblical point of view just doing whatever a given pro-claimed authority says has its limits.
Do parents have authority over children?
But, I think we can make a case for parental authority even without citing helpful and wise Biblical verses. Children need to be taken care of, which requires that someone have the responsibility to do this. This type of responsibility cannot function without some sort of authority.
The kind of authority that is needed is a combination of
- that which protects children from those who would harm them,
- takes care when others would neglect them,
- keeps children from harming themselves, and
- requires certain things of children for their own good and the good of those around them.
It is obvious that parents have by far the greatest natural claim to this dual responsibility/authority for children born to them. The world over it is both expected of them and they are the ones who will fight most fiercely for their own children. There are, of course, exceptions, but parents who abdicate this responsibility are considered shameful at the very least by the majority of people.
What does rebellion look like?
It is helpful to consider what rebellion against parents is not. Rebellion is not children disagreeing or making mistakes. Rebellion is not an older child seeking an independence appropriate for his age or maturity.
Rebellion at large must at the very least be an ongoing practice of disregarding authority. There is often the use of violence to overthrow said authority to claim it as one’s own. It is something that has festered in the heart and spills into all aspects of interaction.
How to avoid problems with rebellion with our children
The first key to avoiding rebellion in our children is to not be unnecessarily authoritarian. The best, first step to achieving this is to make sure the parent-child relationship is built on love. This doesn’t just mean telling children you love them, but exhibiting love in how the children are cared for, prioritized, and treated with patience.
Then when there must be times of insisting on certain things, the child will feel secure in the authority being used for his best interest, whether he or she resists in some measure or not.
Next, make sure that when authority is used, it is done with a calm assurance. A confident, loving authority does not need to rant or threat. Just take the necessary action and help the child to understand what is going on.
Make sure that your exercise of authority is never a matter of ego. That is, the child being required to do something is not a measure of your power or reputation.
Give the child regular opportunities to make choices for things, things you can in good conscience allow them to bear. This may not look the same for every family. Some parents insist on more regular schedules or eating habits. Other parents are more concerned with social scripts to keep things moving smoothly. A lot of things tend to fall under house rules, and that’s okay. However, it is a parent’s role to bring some order and security to the family interactions and living quarters.
Don’t be misled by governmental definitions of childhood! Children do not mature based on the latest age limits. Most age limits set up by the government are not there for the benefit of the children, but for the advantages of adults in power. Let children grow in independence while explaining to them the limits they must face due to certain laws.
The bottom line about rebellion
Rebellion is not inevitable. What is commonly called rebellion in older children is frequently is not rebellion, because they have a legitimate claim on more independence. Growing into adulthood is not an act of rebellion.
Just thinking properly about authority and rebellion can take care of a lot of parenting concerns. Teaching your children to think properly about it all will help them understand themselves better and make better decisions about judging who is a real authority and how to honor that.