Should we discipline all our kids when one of them misbehaves?
Sunday morning I attended a Bible class in which one of the subjects covered was discipline. The teacher asked if we believe selfishness is inherent by nature or the result of nurture. Is self-centeredness born into us, or do well-meaning parents put it there through pampering and coddling?
My take has always been that babies are born incredibly selfish. They cry when they want something — generally until they get that something. I’m sure it’s a survival mechanism and a great way to communicate needs to the parentals, but still… it’s selfish, isn’t it? Each and every baby views him/herself as the center of the universe.
And as babies grow up to be children who are aware of their surroundings, that self-centered view of the world, unaltered, becomes sin. I’m not sure I can think of a single sin that doesn’t begin first with the sin of selfishness.
So I spoke up in Bible class.
I explained what I’ve written so far in this post, but then went on to hypothesize that parents often do nourish that selfishness (which is already present) in their children. But where we live might determine how exactly we go about feeding and growing self-centeredness in our kids. What we American parents often nurture into our children is a highly individualistic selfishness — versus a community-centered selfishness in some other parts of the world.
By nature (I believe) children will be jealous, greedy, and inconsiderate. But I wonder if American children aren’t more likely to be individually so? Maybe the African child is protective of his family and village, and maybe Chinese kids chant “ours, ours, ours” rather than “mine, mine, mine?”
And then I started wondering how exactly we, as American parents, nurture into our children this individualism. Do we honor and praise individual efforts and achievements above those of the group? [Take a look at individual stats in team sports for an answer to this question.] Do we punish individuals when we ought to be disciplining groups? Should our kids share a room even if we’ve got houses big enough for them not to? Should chores be given to each kid individually, or should the children earn their allowances as a group? I’ve got lots of questions.
But the one that stood out to me was whether or not we ought to punish groups for the sins of an individual. As a soccer coach I did this fairly often. The entire team might run laps for the mistakes of only a few. I believe it’s important for teammates to understand that what they do (or don’t do) will necessarily affect their teammates. If one guy was late getting his boots on for warm-ups before a match (and that one guy was late an amazing number of times), I wouldn’t punish the entire team… directly. But that one guy did lose his starting spot on the roster that day. And the team suffered as a consequence.
But it’s not just me who believes it might be a good idea to punish all my children for the wrongs of one or a few. Throughout the Bible God does this. God, in all of his wisdom, regularly disciplines the majority for the sins of a majority. But — in fairness — I should add that we also see God rewarding the majority for the righteousness of a minority. [Thank you, Jesus.]
I won’t get into all those examples; feel free to comment about some of them below. But I will ask you parents what you think (and you non-parents feel free to chime in as well). Do we nurture individualism in our kids? Is it healthy? Do you have a big house, but your kids still share a room? Do you ever punish all your kids for the sins of one? Do you ever reward all of them for the good behavior of one? Do you think we ought to?