What Does Unruly Mean?
The word unruly describes children who either break the rules or ignore the rules. It refers to willful disobedience.
An unruly person chooses to do wrong, though he knows what is right.
Unruly behavior requires a clear, understandable, enforceable warning and appropriate consequences if the child ignores the warning.
Out of Bounds
Many Americans love snow skiing. Thousands ride to the tops of the mountains, then glide, race, and sometimes tumble down the slopes. Unfortunately, every year people injure themselves seriously, or even die, in skiing accidents. Ski resorts mark certain areas out-of-bounds because they know dangers the skiers would not see. And they have ski patrols, experts on skis and in emergency first aid, who watch for any out-of-control skiers. A ski patrolman once told me the two most common reasons for accidents: skiing out of control and skiing out of bounds.
There is a lesson here for us. Parents set boundaries for the same reason the ski resorts do. Though we know that our children could still get hurt living within the boundaries, we know there are hidden dangers, dangers they do not understand, outside the boundaries.
Setting the Boundaries
Parents must teach children the very important lesson of obeying the rules and limits we set. For that to happen, the rules must be fair, consistent, and appropriate to the child’s age. Fair, because unfair rules lead to resentful children. Consistent, because only consistent rules develop solid character. Possible for the child to obey, because children differ in character and maturity. What works with a five-year-old won’t work with his twelve-year-old sister.
A few years ago, a frustrated mother wrote to a newspaper advice column for help with her daughter. The little girl, only five years old, made life unbearable for everyone around her. The mother wanted to know if her daughter was old enough to discipline. “Get busy,” the columnist answered, “you have wasted the five most important years of your child’s life.” We don’t want to make the same mistake, do we?
I have stayed in homes with children like that. One family actually thought their little daughter had a demon! Weird, right? She did not have a demon, but she did act like a little devil. The little girl didn’t need exorcism. She needed good discipline and loving attention. But with parents who were never around, and a grandmother too feeble to keep her in line, how would she get it?
We hear the same stories in our seminars. Parents feel they cannot control their children. Teachers and church children’s workers echo the cry.
According to some family counselors, moms and dads are sometimes in denial about their children’s bad behavior. Here is what Suzanne Fields, a noted family therapist says:
“Certainly there are many parents who know how to set limits for their children and how to establish a clear, bright line between behavior that is right and behavior that is wrong. But the current generation of parents seem almost bewildered about some of the most basic principles of child rearing.”
The Power of No
As soon as children understand the meaning of the word, “No,” education in the school of life begins. They learn about limitations: objects they may not touch, places they may not go, and words they will not say.
Many parents are afraid to say “No,” and enforce it when they say it. Others comment that after a long day in a demanding job, they just do not have the emotional energy to deny a child anything. That one little word, “No” can be very difficult to say and enforce. Yet so much of a child’s future success depends on it.
Unruly children live as if life has no boundaries. They cause their parents, themselves, and everyone else, much aggravation and pain. Does anybody enjoy being around children who haven’t learned to respect limitations? Often they grow into selfish adults who continue to torment people by their unruly living. They break the rules of the road. They break the rules in business. They break the rules in relationships. All that matters is having their way. What a dangerous condition!
The Bible records a story, a very sad story, about a man who destroyed his life because nobody challenged his selfish, unruly behavior. His name was Adonijah. He was the privileged son of a king, yet he came to a sad and untimely end. Here is a part of his story:
“Now Adonijah . . . put himself forward and said, ‘I will be king.’ So he got chariots and horses ready, with fifty men to run ahead of him. (His father had never interfered with him by asking, `Why do you behave as you do?’ He was also very handsome and was born next after Absalom.)” (I Kings 1:5, 6, NIV)
Adonijah had all the resources to become a successful adult, but he was headed for failure. Why? No one interfered with him. No one questioned his motives, his choices, his pride, or his behavior. His father, David, didn’t interfere. Perhaps he was just too busy running the kingdom to prevent his son’s ruin. Or, maybe he just didn’t want to upset the little guy.
What about his mother? The Bible doesn’t tell us much about her. Perhaps, like some mothers, she pampered her son, believing that his future was her future. As C. S. Lewis once said, a mother can never love her son too much, but she can love him in the wrong way. Adonijah’s mommy may have made that costly mistake.
Even with all the advantages he had, Adonijah was a victim of parental neglect. Why? Because his parents overlooked his need for discipline. Read the rest of the story in the Bible to see the heartbreaking results. Adonijah caused his nation, his parents, his friends, and himself many serious problems. He died relatively young, destroyed in the prime of his life by his own self-centeredness.
Our children will only grow into responsible adults if we challenge their unruly behavior while they are still young and tender. An old Malayan proverb says: “If you want to mold the shape of the tree, begin when it is a twig.” Or, as the Bible says, “Teach a child how he should live, and he will remember it all his life.” (Proverbs 22:6, TEV)
How do we handle unruly children? Warn them! Challenge your child’s unruly behavior. Be prepared to enforce the warning with proper discipline if he disregards your voice. Proper discipline depends on the child’s age and personal development, and also his or her temperament. Sometimes a sharp word will be enough to enforce the rule, but we may need to go further.
We can learn how to warn our children and enforce those warnings, no matter what our temperament is, or theirs. But don’t become a passive parent. Passive parents are a danger to their children. When it comes to discipline, doing nothing is always the wrong choice.