Question:

I need some help solving a problem that I have with my daughters. Any advice or suggestions would be welcomed. I am writing in simple Spanish in hopes that you will not have difficulties in understanding it. If you do have problems, I will write in broken English. I believe that in Spanish or in my deficient English, we should be able to converse. [Note to readers: I used automated translation software to get the gist of what was written and then rewrote it for clarity. Please regard any errors in the translation as mistakes on my part.]

I have the following problem in my home: I am the father of six children, two boys and four girls. To raise six children in today's world is not easy and to afford to raise our six children, both I and my wife must work outside the home. We are able to make this work because my wife's parents live with us and help us with the children. However, teaching six children is not an easy task and some appear to be badly educated.

I am having serious problems with two of my daughters, who are fourteen and thirteen. They are my two older daughters. I have a son who is seventeen. He and the younger children are no problem, but things are going very badly with these two daughters. First, they will not obey anyone -- parents, grandparents, or teachers. They will not listen to anyone. And to top it off, they are set on doing wicked things. They have been stealing from their friends' book bags. Last week they went into the office of a teacher while she was out and stole money from the wallet in her purse.

It is difficult to realize that I have daughters who would steal, but it seems they have been doing it often. A friend of theirs told me that my daughters will sometimes enter a store and take things when the sales clerk or owner of the store is distracted. I was told that they hide the things in their book bags.

I talked with the preacher at our church and he told me that I need to get a switch (a rod of wood that is thin, hard, but flexible) and the next time one of my daughters steal to immediately give her a sound thrashing. He said I need to do this consistently and hard enough that she will not want to return to stealing. Every time she steals, she must be punished in order to stop her stealing.

At first, I didn't listen to my preacher. Instead, I took my daughters to a psychologist. He told me that spanking was bad advice. He put my daughters into treatment for anti-social behavior. However, my daughters did not listen to the treatment, so all the money paid the psychologist was wasted.

In the end, I went back to the preacher at my congregation. He scolded me for thinking that a psychologist or psychiatrist could solve my problem with my daughters. He told me that only in the Bible would I find a solution. He picked up a Bible and read to me the words from Proverbs about using a rod for correction to put order and discipline in children's lives. He said that this is what God wants mothers and fathers to do.

My wife's parents warned me years ago that I was allowing my daughter to do as they please and that it was not good for them. They told me that spanking a child did not mean you loved them less. They too urge me to find a switch and use it when they are not obedient. I did not listen to them when they told me this and now I see the result. However, they say that it is not too late to correct the problem.

I'm writing to you for advice. It is good to get a second opinion or another point of view. I never approved of spanking in the past, but now I'm confused. I don't know what to think about it. Worse, I'm running out of time. I would be very grateful if you would give me your advice. Tell me what you would do if you were in my situation.


Answer:

You definitely have problems and not all of the advice you received was bad. Consider this a moment: your wife grew up to be the woman you love. She doesn't have "anti-social behaviors." Yet you rejected the advice of the two people who successfully raised her. I would assume that you were also spanked as a child. It is only recently that spanking has fallen out of favor in common society. Why is it that each generation thinks it knows more than the previous generation? We ought to look at the mistakes that our parents made and correct those for our children, but when our parents did something that turned out well, we should retain those things.

The preacher at your congregation also gave you good advice. He pointed you to the Bible and showed you what God said about raising children. Since we are the product of God's creation, it makes sense that God knows what is best for us. It is foolish to think that men can come up with a better way to raise children. Man is too limited to see the consequences of his actions. "There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death" (Proverbs 14:12). And man is arrogant. He always thinks that whichever way he picks must be the best way. "The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but he who heeds counsel is wise" (Proverbs 12:15).

The only bad advice you received was from the psychologist, but that is because he teaches worldly wisdom. What passes for wisdom in this world is often plain foolishness. "Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?" (I Corinthians 1:20). Modern psychology has been around for less than 200 years. God and the Bible have a few years on the science of psychology and better insight into the workings of men.

You have two problems: unruly children and daughters who have taken to stealing. You and your wife need to sit down and have a serious discussion about how you want your children to behave when they grow up. You need to decide how you want them to behave toward you, their grandparents, their teachers, and others in authority. Unless you firmly have a goal in mind, any instruction on your part will be inconsistent and seen as insincere. Let me suggest reading the following passages: Ephesians 4:20-32; Colossians 3:1-15; Galatians 5:19-23. They tell us the behaviors that should be rejected and the behaviors that should be cultivated both in our own lives and in the lives of our children.

Seen as one big package, the task will appear to be overwhelming. However, we will not tackle everything at once. For each child, even the ones that are behaving well, pick one or two things that you want that child to do better. For your daughters, we already know that ending the stealing is on top of your list. But I suspect that your other children are not completely without problems. It is just that compared to your two daughters, their problems seem to be minor. However, everyone needs to improve and it is important that you treat your children equally and fairly. They might not have the same problems to overcome, but they all have something for which to strive.

Next, you and your wife need to look at what you are doing that is encouraging or accepting the bad behavior. Most parents are blind to the things that they do which promote bad behavior in their children. For example, when did you first suspected that your daughters were stealing? Did you and your wife notice that things were missing, but dismiss them as your own forgetfulness? Did you notice that you daughters had things that you didn't purchase, wondered where they came from, but didn't bother to look into the matter because it wasn't that important? Did you find things that they stole, but you didn't make them return them? When others told you they were stealing, did you defend your daughters and rescue them from punishment? In many ways, big and small, parents give their children the wrong message. They accidentally tell their children that stealing is acceptable to them.

Once you understand your mistakes, stop it immediately. The realization will come to you and your wife slowly over time as you critically look at your lives.

In the meantime, the children's behavior must change. First and foremost, talk to the school and the teacher from whom your daughters stole the money. Find out how much is missing. Then ask the school what their standard policy is for stealing and then ask them to implement it. Let them know that you will not interfere and that your daughters will be facing additional consequences at home. In addition, let the school know that you would like to be informed of any future bad behavior so that you can reinforce the school's discipline at home.

Next, try to determine why your daughters stooped to stealing. Were they looking for the thrill? Were they wanting attention? Are they using the money to buy things? Are they using drugs? If you can determine this, then it will help tailor the punishment.

Third, tell your daughters that they will return the money and items that they stole. In addition they will pay the same amount again that will go into the family's fund. Since they have been benefiting from stealing, all personal items in their room will be sold (at your selection) to pay off their debt. This is where determining why they stole will be useful. Select foremost the items they wanted so much that they were willing to steal to get them. If this doesn't raise sufficient funds, then inform them that they will need to earn it either by getting a job or by doing extra chores at home. Until the money is paid off in full, they will have no social life -- period. If drugs are involved, turn them over to the police. Yes, there will be major consequences, but this is what your daughters must face.

Fourth, since it appears they use their book bags to accomplish their crimes, get rid of the bags. If they need some way to carry their books and it is impractical to carry them in their arms, give them a means that is open to view, such as a clear plastic container. In addition, they should not be allowed to carry a purse to school for the rest of the year.

Finally, inform your daughters that any rebellion or sneaking out for social activities will receive a spanking with a rod. The choice of whether they receive a spanking becomes theirs.

For your other children, decide on ways to motivate them to behave better that is related to the issue you want them to work. Try to pick some positive and some negative motivators. For example, perhaps you want the youngest not to yell when he is told to do something. If he yells, he gets a small spanking and still must do what he was told. If he goes a whole week without yelling, he can select a candy bar to eat at the local market. When he masters himself for two weeks in a row, you raise the goal to a whole month. After that you start working on the next problem.

All of this should be communicated as severely and objectively as you can manage. Do not shout or yell. Be firm and unemotional. Your goal is not to get your way, but to shape your children's lives so that they grow up into godly people. Don't take setbacks personally. This is a matter of right and wrong. It is a matter of what is best for your children's future.