Self-Discipline and Boys

For those moms and dads out there who expect their boys to discipline themselves, I can only say, "Lotsa luck." Self-discipline is a worthwhile goal, but it rarely develops on its own initiative. It must be taught. Shaping and molding young minds is a product of careful and diligent parental leadership. You can be sure, it requires great effort and patience. As for some parents' wish for independent thinkers and hard workers, that's another pipe dream. The adults who were surveyed apparently hoped for kids who would do magnificent things without much parental involvement. That is like saying to a child, "You can do it yourself, kid. Don't bother me." If it were that easy, dedicated mothers and fathers wouldn't be laboring at night to help their children finish their homework or teach them principles of character and values. The notion of effortless parenting by busy moms and dads is destined to fail—especially with tough-minded males who dearly love fun and games. Any way you slice it, parents are on the hook.

Smithsonian Magazine once featured a master stone carver from England named Simon Verrity, who honed his craft by restoring thirteenth-century cathedrals in Great Britain. As the authors watched him work, they noticed something very interesting. They wrote, "Verrity listens closely to hear the song of the stone under his careful blows. A solid strike and all is well. A higher-pitched ping and it could mean trouble. A chunk of rock could break off. He constantly adjusts the angle of the chisel and the force of the mallet to the pitch, pausing frequently to run his hand over the freshly carved surface."2

Verrity understood well the importance of his task. He knew that one wrong move could be devastating, causing irreparable damage to his work of art. His success was rooted in his ability to read the signals being sung by his stones. In a similar way, parents need to listen to the "music" of their children, especially during times of confrontation and correction. It takes a great deal of patience and sensitivity to discern how the child is responding. If you listen carefully, your boys and girls will tell you what they're thinking and feeling. By honing your craft, you too can become a master carver who creates a beautiful work of art. But remember this: The stone can't carve itself.

Let me say again what I have written twice before in this book: Boys need structure, they need supervision, and they need to be civilized. When raised in a laissez-faire environment that is devoid of leadership, they often begin to challenge social conventions and common sense. Many often crash and burn during the adolescent years. Some never fully recover. Here's another metaphor that may be helpful: A stream without banks becomes a swamp. It is your job as parents to build the channel in which the steam will run. And another: A child will be ruled by either the rudder or the rock. Authority, when balanced by love, is the rudder that steers your boys around the jagged boulders that could rip the bottom out of their fragile boats. Without you, disaster is inevitable. Self-discipline, indeed!

We received a letter at the ministry from a mother who has observed the same trends that concern me. She wrote, "What has become of the backbone of parents today? My husband and I have been amazed again and again by the fearfulness of parents to take a stand—even with their small children. They don't seem to grasp the idea that God has put them in charge for a very good reason, and it is He who will hold them accountable. If parents were to instill the concept of proper, God-honoring authority in their children from the start, it would be far easier to enforce when the preteen years arrive."

This mom is absolutely right. Parents are obligated to take charge of their young sons and teach them respectful and responsible behavior. When they fail in that mission, trouble stalks both generations.

Book: Bringing Up Boys

By Dr. James Dobson

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