And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord~ Ephesians 6:4 NKJV
Parenting has evolved into an exercise in excesses. Authoritarian parents take strictness and rigidity to extremes, with little thought to how unnecessary rules and lack of flexibility affect relationships. Conversely, permissive parents are excessively indulgent, seemingly uninterested in creating any sort of boundaries for their kids, allowing kids to run the show and set the standards.
Protective parents hover compulsively over their children. These well-meaning mothers and fathers are convinced that something will go horribly awry in the life of their child if they are not with them every moment to monitor and direct every aspect of their kid’s existence from birth to adulthood. Then there are the so-called free-range parents who are convinced that even very young children are perfectly capable of maneuvering complex situations with little or no input from adults.
There is no area where you see extremes expressed more fully than in the area of strictness. Webster’s dictionary defines strictness as: “a firm adherence to the rules.” I define strictness as not simply adhering strictly to rules but as also as having an abundance of rules that you firmly adhere to.
My logic for tweaking Webster’s definition is fairly straightforward. When we think of strictness we tend to think of conditions that are unreasonably burdensome or oppressive. Strictly adhering to one, two or even three rules is hardly burdensome even by the most liberal of standards.
Authoritarian parents love rules and take great pleasure in creating new ones. The authoritarian parent has rule for every situation and their solution to every new problem that crops up is to create a new set of rules. Permissive parents tend to view rules with a cynical eye, believing that rules are a form tyranny intended to stifle imagination and keep kids from learning about the world around them.
How strict is too strict? How many rules are too many? In truth, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to the question. It really does depend on the age and maturity level of the child in question. Young children need lots of rules and boundaries to keep them safe and help them figure out the universe. Kids should need fewer rules as they mature and begin to understand how the law of cause and effect works in day-to-day decision-making.
In my experience, two to seven are the training years of childhood. Parents should be fairly strict—never mean or punitive, but there should be quite a few rules governing every day behavior. During this period kids should be carefully supervised and even controlled. Children this age should be told what to do and expected to obey parental directives because they lack the wisdom and life experience to make good decisions. Most choices kids make during these years should be controlled choices. For example:
Do you want to eat grilled cheese or peanut butter and jelly for lunch today? Rather than: what do you want for lunch today?
Do you want to wear the blue shirt or the red shirt to Church today?
Rather than: what do you want to wear to Church today?
Controlled choices help keep chaos to a minimum, establish parents as the authority in the home, give children a sense of control over their world and helps kids to understand what a good choice looks like.
Eight to fourteen year-olds still need rules and firm boundaries to keep them in line. That said, parents should begin the process of letting go of control of their kids. This is accomplished by allowing kids make more of their own decisions. Kids this age need to discover the link between choices and consequences.
Children acquire that knowledge when parents allow them to experience the full weight of the consequences of their choices. If they don’t wish to wear a coat, don’t force them. You may learn that your child has a higher tolerance for cold temperatures than you do (as I did), or your kid will learn that it stinks to be cold and in the process become responsible for their own comfort level.
The later teen years are all about letting go of control and empowering kids to make adult decisions. Fifteen to eighteen year-olds should have minimal rules focused mostly on safety, respect and moral issues. The penalties for poor choices during these years should be painful, immediate and long lasting. A speeding ticket should result in a loss of driving privileges and perhaps a requirement to pay for their own insurance. Run-ins with authority figures ought to result in a complete loss of freedom for a season. Parenting kids this age is a balancing act between giving them freedom to make enough mistakes to learn but not enough freedom to ruin their lives or hurt other people.
Overly strict and overly permissive parents share one thing in common: they both forget that kids grow-up to live their own lives. It’s our duty as parents to teach rather than control them. We must enable them to make good choices so that they can become the best possible versions of themselves they can be.