The Problem Child: Raising Godly Children in a Wicked World

The Problem Child

             Some of you, after reading this book, are probably thinking, "This is all fine and good, but I wish someone told me this years ago." What do you do if you started out your child rearing on the wrong foot?

             First, understand that things will not improve if you continue using the wrong methods. It is likely that you will not be able to completely repair all the previous damage that you may have inadvertently caused in your child's younger years. However, ignoring the problem and continuing your present course will not improve the matter. Sit down with your child and explain that you have been learning about parenting from God's Word and that you have discovered that you had been doing some things incorrectly. Apologize for the error and explain that you will be changing how you handle things in the future. Some aspects of the changes they may not like, but assure them that God said this is a better way. If your child is old enough, sit down with them and have a family Bible study on the topic of raising children. Not only will this warn them of the upcoming changes that you plan to make, it also helps them to understand God's Word so they will not make the same mistakes you made when they become parents.

             Second, you have a lot of lost ground to make up. It will not be easy and it will not come quickly. Where a forewarned parent has a number of years to adjust and tailor their child's training as the child is growing, you will have fewer years to get the same lessons accomplished. If you are starting with a teenager, you will not be able to concentrate on teaching self-control. You will have to also teach the lessons on obedience and responsibility that the child had missed. The concentrated lessons will not be enjoyable for you or the child, but they are necessary.

             Once in a while, a child will go astray despite our best efforts. It seems that most people I have met with wayward children feel they have done everything possible, but the child chose to stray. We are all free-agents, able to chose to obey or disobey our Lord. However, there are few families that I have met where it wasn't apparent that they had not been following God's teachings on raising children as closely as they should have been. The Bible lists a number of godly men who were unable to raise godly children. Eli, the High Priest of the Most High, raised wicked sons. The reason for his failure is clearly stated: he never restrained them (I Samuel 3:12-13). Like many modern philosophers, Eli did not punish his children for wrong doing, but let them do as they will. Sometimes, children raised without proper discipline grow up to be godly people, but it is despite their parent's instructions, not because of it. King David had a number of rebellious sons. In I Kings 1:5-6, Adonijah's rebellion was attributed to the fact that David always tried to please his children. We can't always be a chum with our children and raise them to be respectful and obedient. Children need correction. It is a part of their training.

             Often, parents who raised their children with poor technique face their biggest challenge when their children reach their teenage years. The tranquil child now asserts his independence, but instead of moving towards godliness, he chases after the wicked. What is a parent to do? I will admit that I don't have all the answers. I don't even have most of the answers. The following are a few suggestions to consider in various situations.

Spanking: There is nothing in the Scriptures to indicate that spanking must be limited to young children. Many times you can find effective, non-spanking forms of discipline for older children. However, there are times when nothing better drives the point home than a simple spanking. Consider spanking as an option when you are dealing with willful rebellion, backtalk, or foul-language.

Restricted Privileges: Parents and children both assume that everything that comes their way is theirs by right. Few people learn to appreciate that most of the things that we take for granted are privileges. If this lesson would only sink into more people we would have fewer problems with pride. Sometimes a point is made by removing privileges of going places or engaging in certain entertainment activities. If you chose to punish by removing driving privileges or limiting television viewing, you must make sure that the consequences are spelled out before the violation occurs. Older children need to be able to weigh the temptation against the consequences. It makes the punishment much more effective.

             The removal of privileges can be an effective tool in correcting access to things that help a child accomplish their wrongful practices. Is your son's rebelliousness coming from associating with wicked friends? Then limit his free time in the evenings and weekends. Not only forbid him from leaving home for a period of time, but also make sure that his extra time is filled with special chores to be accomplished. Have you discovered that your daughter is experimenting with drugs? Then remove those things that allow her to purchase the drugs. Eliminate her allowance and require her to earn her own spending money. Severely restrict her telephone privileges. I am surprised how many parents, who told me their child was into drugs also told me that their children had their own phone -- paid for by the parents! Why make it easy for them to arrange drug deals? Yes, I understand that phones do not lead to drug use, but if you know a child is into drugs, these same tools can facilitate the purchase of drugs. Accomplish two things at once. Punish the child by removing a privilege and have the lost privilege cause the child extra difficulty in violating your rules.

             In the extreme, a child can lose access to all luxury. If you find drugs hidden in your child's room, then make it difficult to hid drugs in the room. Remove every luxury from the room, and I do mean everything that is not an absolute necessity. Remove all the furniture, except a mattress. Remove all the posters, pictures, trophies, games, and collectibles. Reduce the clothing down to the minimum needed to get by, such as two sets of everyday clothing and one better outfit for Sunday. Sell or give away all the items. Make it clear to the child that these privileges may be earned back by extended good behavior. This probably sounds extreme, but some offenses require extreme action to show the significance of sinful behavior.

Withdrawal: Some sins can be effectively punished by removing access to the encouragement of the family. Just as an unrepentant sinner can be made to see the repugnancy of sin by the withdrawal of the congregation, the same lesson can be used on a smaller scale within the family. Parents commonly used this method with their younger children without thinking about what is being accomplished. We often send our children to their rooms for periods of time when they misbehave. The isolation gives them time to cool down and think about what they have done. They soon realize the separation from the rest of the family is boring. Too many games require someone to play with. This form of discipline is effective for children who are fighting or throwing tantrums.

             When an older teenager constantly rebels, refusing to obey the rules of the home, it may be necessary to remove him from the home. Just as a sin left in a congregation can spread rapidly to all the members, a rebellious child's behavior can influence younger children to sin in their own ways as they grow up. Pack the rebellious child's bags and put them on the porch. Few things make a bigger impact than to come home and find you are no longer welcomed. Offer to help him find a place to rent. You may even offer to pay the first few months rent, so he can find a job to support himself. Make sure that he understands he is welcomed to return if he will repent of his sins and is willing to live by your rules. Just because the child is out of your home, it does not relieve you of your responsibilities to try to bring him out of his sins. His removal from your home is to make him understand your disapproval and your seriousness in not tolerating wrong doing. It also is important to keep his sin from spreading to your other children. They will learn that sin has a serious consequence when they observe your actions.

             Punishing a child is usually difficult on a parent. We want the best for our children and it is difficult to inflict discomfort and pain on our little ones. It becomes even more difficult when a child forces us to use extreme measures. Not only does it distresses us to see our child in trouble, but the fact we have to take these steps makes us realize that we haven't done our part as parents. We have failed our child, ourselves, and our Lord. However, as with any sin, feeling sorry for ourselves is not going to correct the situation. Every sin has a consequence and if we haven't lived up to the Lord's rules for raising godly children, then we need to accept the consequences and do the best we can to fix the problem we have caused. Even parents have to learn to accept the responsibility for their own mistakes.

Why Do You Act Like That?

       When four-year-old Johnny went to the grocery store with his mommy, Johnny snitched a piece of candy from the bottom shelf and promptly ate it. His mother saw him do it and she took the candy wrapper and hid it behind some cans of beans.

        When Johnny was six, he was in the front seat of the car when his daddy was pulled over by a policeman. When his dad gave the officer his driver's license, he also slipped the policeman a twenty dollar bill. When the cop would not take the money, Johnny's dad cussed him out.

        When eight-year-old Johnny went to a family reunion picnic, he roasted marshmallows with the other kids while the grown-ups told funny stories about how they had cheated on their taxes over the years.

        When Johnny was ten-years-old, he went hunting with his grandpa. They helped each other get through the barbed wire fence and grandpa tore down the "no-trespassing" sign and hid it under s January 26, 2008 p>        When twelve-year-old Johnny spent the weekend with his aunt and uncle, Johnny fell and broke his glasses. His aunt called the insurance company and told them that Johnny's glasses had been stolen from their care, and she collected $115.

        When Johnny was thirteen, he mad first string on the Junior High football team. Johnny played right guard, and the coach taught Johnny how to block. He also taught Johnny how to grab the opponent by the shirt in a way that the officials could not see.

        When Johnny turned fifteen, he got his first summer job, working at a produce stand on a busy road. The manager taught Johnny how to put the overripe tomatoes in the bottom of the carton and how to set the scale so that it added a couple of ounces to every purchase.

        When sixteen-year-old Johnny was sent to the store to pick up some things, his dad told him to pick up some beer while he was out. To make that easier, Johnny's dad fixed him up with some phony ID, just in case.

        When Johnny was seventeen and a senior, he found chemistry class to be very difficult and he was failing. His class president, however, sold Johnny the answers to the chemistry test.

        It was near midnight when the phone rang at the home of Johnny's mom and dad. His mom answered the call.

        "Ma'am," a husky voice said, "we have your son here at the county jail."

        After about ninety days of legalities and lawyers fees, Johnny was on probation for grand theft and was attending weekly meetings of Narcotics Anonymous.

        "How could you do this to your mom and me?" his father shouted. And his mom chimed in with "Where did you learn to act like that?" His aunt said, "If there is one thing I can't stand, it's a kid that lies." "John," said his grandpa, "we must all obey the law."

Terrence D. McLean


Bipolar or Spoiled?

The symptoms, which are regarded as evidence of bipolar disorder, usually are what most people recognize as ordinary belligerence. Children who have anger outbursts, who refuse to go to bed, who are moody and self-centered under the current standard of care in child psychiatry are being diagnosed with bipolar disorder. To most rational human beings, these behaviors describe an ill-mannered, immature and poorly disciplined child. Nonetheless, the temper tantrums of belligerent children are increasingly being characterized by doctors as the mood swings of bipolar disorder.  

Instead of grooming, feeding and educating the next generation of Americans to be the fittest, brightest, most competent contributors on the planet, we have indulged, placated and spoiled our children into dysfunctional misfits. We are teaching our children to use a psychiatric diagnosis to excuse their antisocial behaviors. This will inevitably lead to a greater reliance on psychiatric medications, which unfortunately do not endow an individual with improved self-control or maturity.

Dr. Elizabeth J. Roberts, Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist


Proverbs 22:6

Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.

Your Questions

I have a question in relation to child discipiline. I have a 13-year-old son and an 8-year-old son. My wife and I realized of late the problems we caused by following non Biblical consequences with our boys. My oldest son has been lying and my youngest has problems with obedience. I read your parenting articles and was wondering how we could establish control.

I want to be able to point them out their errors. We followed the time outs and such like that modern people use. I was wondering what you would recommend and can you give me guidelines for spanking? What kind of rod should I use on them? What things should I do before, during, and after a spanking?

My wife and I are really concerned about the way we let things slide. My wife thinks our oldest son is too old for spanking? Please tell me how to implement and use the Word of God when it comes to changing their heart.


Whenever I switch one of the kids my wife has a fit. She begs me to use a different punishment. Her crying and shouting make it very difficult to administer a proper whipping to the youngster. Afterwards she is furious with me and may even give me the silent treatment for a few days.

If the wife is against corporal punishment should the husband respect her wishes. Normally she is respectful and obedient but the thought of a switch hitting any of our children, ages 8 to 16, is very upsetting to her.


I don't know what is happening, our own preacher doesn't go for spanking the way he used to. When I was growing up he had a great big paddle right in his office and he spanked boys and girls and sometimes even a couple of church members (this was back when he ran an adult home in the 70s). Now a days he hardly mentions it to anyone and I know he doesn't paddle anyone but his own grandkids.

My wife too has changed. She was all in favor of spanking when we were first married, but now she thinks that we should be careful and doesn't want me to whip the teenager. She thinks it will cause her to rebel. I don't see it, but she thinks it should only be used for little kids!!!

I get frustrated, because I have a teenager who is giving me backtalk or lying about doing her chores and I think she needs to be dealt with. And I definitely don't think 16 too old for a spanking. In fact I don't think any girl, including my wife, is too old for a spanking!! That's just my opinion.

So if I get into a argument with my daughter, I will probably get into a argument with my wife. She knows that our daughter is rebelling but she just wants to save her hide. It doesn't stop me but I usually hate the argument later.

I treat both kids the same and if the 8 year old gives me the kind of lip the 16 year is giving me, he would get the same type of punishment. My wife even worries about disciplining an 8 year old boy!!


I am a Swedish man living in Denmark, not a Christian or religious at all, but I am brought up in a tradition where spanking and what my father called "male virtues" was normal. This was in the 60´s and beginning of the 70´s.

I do agree that for boys it is a necessary act of love and discipline from the father to use corporal punishment, and that should only be given on the bare buttocks. I do not believe in mothers spanking either boys or girls and I certainly do not believe in girls being spanked. I tell you I had never heard before I was adult that a girl could be spanked. I had to take my sisters' punishment if it was any serious thing, but it was seldom. I made my own boyish mistakes and learned from my punishments.

I was raised with my parents love and with corporal punishments always given directly and on bare buttocks by my father. My father never screamed at me, but his authority I never doubted and neither his love for me. When it was needed he used his palm, the birch, the belt, a rod or a rattan cane, it depended of the age and the severity of my wrong doing. I had my punishments until I was 17 and then moved from home and started to work and earn my living. My late father and I become the best mates. We didn´t meet that often because of geographical distances, but we talked a lot on the phone and I always trusted his advice. I just wanted to say this in a world where boys are made into thugs or sissies: Let us change it. I never will become religious, but here we have a common interest, seeing young men becoming mature men!

Nowadays in most European countries it is forbidden to raise boys properly, with well known results; thugs and sissies making problems at streets, committing crimes, rapes and violent acts. Thugs and sissies are, as my father once said, two sides of the same coin. What I mean by that is that boys are not raised into balanced manhood any longer, but they are still often acting like big brats, continue to be so in their 30´s and beyond. It is a pity.

I believe fathers must get their authority back and the natural method of raising their sons into balanced manhood, not "macho" behavior or trying to get away from a man's responsibility like many men do today under the rule of female values. My father talked about male virtues and acted out of these ideals. I am grateful for that and deeply concerned about what will become of our fellow young men today?


Our 13 year old lies about everything to get what he wants. He lies about not having homework when he does. He hides bad homework from us. We talk to the teachers everyday now. He continues to lie even though he knows he is going to get caught. We must search his backpack every night. It seems as if he is constantly grounded from everything. And when he starts to do better and we let him earn back a privilege, it turns out he got away with another lie for a day, or he ends up doing something to remove his privileges again. His answer to us when we ask him why, is "I don't know."


How do I chasten my teenager for using drugs?


My son was very rude and would not explain his behavior. I must mention that it has been over a month since the last time that I spanked him. At that time I gave him a bare-bottom spanking in front of everyone. It was every effective, so I used the same method this time. I hope that it doesn't hurt his feelings. Can it hurt his feelings?


I think girls to be just as aggressive as boys, but in a different way. Does God allow mean behaviors such as being manipulative and subversive to get what one want? Please tell me, how do you turn around a catty, snippy or snooty child?


A Chrisian friend has a child that has been diagnosed with ADD or ADHD. I keep this child once a week and I have several questions for those of you who are familiar with ADD or ADHD. The mother doesn't want to give me much information because she feels I already have prejudiced views of children with ADD or ADHD. She doesn't want to get into with me about it.

Because I keep this child, I would like to know as much as I can. I want to know what other Christians believe and what information they have before I go to the world. I know with these children I have heard that spanking and other forms of punishments are not what they need. But, the three children I have known who "have it" were not disciplined just medicated. They were allowed to misbehave without discipline. So when I have seen that it has "prejudiced me" somewhat. But I am open to information because I don't want to expect more from a child with this problem than I should.

This child was brought to my house without medication and was very hard to deal with. I finally had to decide to spank him for certain things in order to get his attention. He got somewhat better. After having a talk with the mother, she decided to medicate him before he came. She was not medicating him when he was at home, just at school. It is very sad to see him like this- quiet, non-verbal, "in space".

I knew there were people on here that have dealt with this. I couldn't remember who. If you would please e-mail me privately. I really am open minded and am looking for ways to help this child and to have the proper attitude.

[From a sister in Christ]

You'll get into some political trouble in the world and sadly even among Christians for saying what should be obvious to folks who believe the Bible.  But, here goes:   I find it dangerous spiritually for anyone to affirm that Bible methods of discipline "won't work" and that science has discovered something better.  I'm not opposed to science, rightly used.  But, as you observed, since the Bible methods of discipline haven't even been tried, who is anyone to stand before God and say that His way, which we didn't try, won't work.

My own belief is that ADD and ADHD are most often labels rather than diseases.  It is certainly easier to medicate than to discipline.  It is easier to label a child than to tell the parents that they are not practicing disciplinary habits that teach a child self-control.  Parents don't get offended if you give them a pill for their child, but they do get offended if you suggest corrections to their child-rearing techniques.  Guess which is, therefore, easier to do.

If you were standing in the First Century with a child that wouldn't behave, what would the Apostles have told you to do?  If you had been talking to Solomon when he was writing the Proverbs and the wisdom they contain about discipline,  would one have had the courage to tell him his methods "won't work" but someday we will develop new technologies that will?

These are behaviors, not diseases. 

[From a brother in Christ]

As a practicing physician and former psychologist, I would like to share a few observations.

  1. ADHD does not mean the same thing as "misbehaving".  ADHD means a severe problem with attention.  It does not imply rebelliousness.  A simple way to tell the difference is to ask what the person tends to do when given a direction to complete a complicated, unpleasant, and uninteresting task.  A non-rebellious child with a good attention span will, of course, complete the task.  A non-rebellious child with ADHD will start the task, but will soon lose interest and wander off without completing the task or, if he does continue to work at it, will do so in an unorganized, inefficient manner.  A rebellious child will refuse, or argue, or lie that he has already completed the task.  Obviously, some people are both rebellious AND have a poor attention.  Many parents bring their child to see me, asking me to prescribe a medicine to make their child less rebellious.  I tell them that I can probably improve their child's attention span, but if they don't deal with the rebelliousness, the medicine  will simply make the kid a well-focused rebel.
  2. The idea that discipline "does not work" and spanking "does not work" for children with ADHD is ridiculous.  Even a dog can be trained.  Certainly a child can be trained.  God didn't make a mistake when He inspired the book of Proverbs. 
  3. Having a poor attention span does make it more difficult to do the right thing.  For that reason, and for that reason alone, treating ADHD does sometimes result in improved behavior.  There is no such thing as a "be good" pill.  If a child exhibits better behavior on medication, that is pretty good evidence that he truly does have an attention problem.  BUT he may also have a discipline problem as well, which is a separate issue.
  4. Allergies do interfere with attention.  I agree that allergies should be treated first, before any other medications are tried.
  5. Special diets do help those with food allergies and intolerences to pay attention better.  I haven't seen any evidence that they help those who don't.  I think they are worth a try.

I completely agree with those who suggest that attention problems may be sleep-related.  I have not kept statistics but would estimate that at least 3/4s of the children whom I see who have serious attention problems also have significant sleep problems.  In some cases, the sleep problems are allergy-related.  In some cases, the parents have a chaotic lifestyle and the child has no bedtime routine.  Sometimes the child's own difficulty with focusing and organization make maintaining a bedtime routine especially challenging.  Sleep apnea can contribute to (or even cause) attention problems.  (If a child often snores loudly, and especially if he sometimes "quits breathing" while asleep, he may have significant apnea.)  Sometimes the sleep problem is primary insomnia of unknown cause.  For those children,  I have used chamomille tea.  For older children, I have used over-the-counter melatonin.

ADHD is often described as a "disease".  I think it is more accurately described as a "problematic variance in ability".  What I mean is this:  there is normal variation in the ability to direct one's attention, but those whose ability is significantly below normal have a serious problem.  I compare it to clumsiness.  Some people are born athletes.  Most people are average.  Many people are not graceful.  Some folks you just wouldn't want on your baseball team.  (I am one of those people.)  We could, if we chose, label people like me as AD, Athletically Deficient.  Blessedly for my childhood, our culture does not expect children to play sports six hours a day.   The public school system does, however, expect children to pay attention for six hours per day.  I didn't say they should.  I said they do.

[From a sister in Christ]

Many kids who have (the label of) "poor attention spans" are able to sit in one place and concentrate profusely and intently, without distraction, at things like XBox or Madden Football or Nickelodeon, etc.  Is it really a "medical" inability to apply a lengthy attention span if a child can pull it off for one of those?  How does the medical problem come and go depending on "what" is being attented-to or not-attented-to?   Or doesn't that give away that the real problem (if it is a problem) is likely somewhere else (and I'm not assigning blame nor not-loving anyone, just asking for logical analysis).  To use one example I'm familiar with, how does cause X (sleep apnea, food allergies, sunspots, or whatever causes such things, etc) 'know' to make a child restless 10 minutes into a sermon to the point that they "can't" medically manage to do it, but they could play X-Box for an hour without a break? 

Based on that, doesn't it seem likely that children, just like adults, find it easy to concentrate on things that interest them and hard to concentrate on things they're not interested in?  Do we need a root cause (or a label?) for that, or is it simply a self-explanatory condition of human beings in general?  Just wondering...

[From a sister in Christ]

One response on attention spans and how children labeled as ADD or ADHD can sit playing electronic games for extended periods of time.  A child psychologist in our congregation explained it to me as constant and instant feedback.  They get that constant feedback from an electronic game but not by listening in class or during services so they can't stay focused.  That is the difference.  They also loose interest in board games because it isn't always their turn!  Just giving the information as it was given to me...

[From a sister in Christ]

I have two adopted boys, ages 7 and 8, who have ADD and ADHD. The youngest has major self control problems-he will burst into tears from intense sadness or will act out in uncontrollable anger. He has done this since he was a baby. The issue is his impulsiveness. He will also get distracted  when given a command with more than one step.

The older one mainly has a hyperactivity issue. He was born three months premature and has mild CP. We did medicate him about a year ago and after several months of changing doses and medications we decided to take him off the drugs. His reaction to the medication was scary. He is a very outgoing, loud, happy boy. When on the medication, he became withdrawn, quiet and lost his appetite.

That said, we decided to change their diet. We basically do the Fiengold Diet which is no artificial flavors, colors or preservatives. I don't follow it completely because I get so tired of making my own bread and I buy meat from the store with all the added junk. Going totally organic would help many children, I believe. We do belong to an organic food co-op, but I have yet to utilize it in the best way.

Also, I give our children cod liver oil which has many benefits for kids with ADD. We also use charts to help them stay focused on their daily tasks.

We do spank daily. One would think it would finally get through to them, but with their impulsiveness, they don't stop to think before they act. We also use "time outs" to let them cool off and then talk about their behavior afterwards. With the diet changes and better understanding their problem, we as parents are better equipped to deal with them.

Besides spanking and timeouts, we reward good behavior. Our 8 year old has improved dramatically. Our 7 year old is so scatter brained and impulsive that we have a long way to go with him, yet he has had minimal improvement with the diet change. We can show them verses in the Bible, study correct behaviors and self control, but the impulsive behavior is hard to deal with. With age, things will improve. I think they will come to a point where they will mature enough and it will finally sink in.

By eating "purer" foods and using "purer" cleaning products and watching the lotions and things that are put onto their skin can help. I personally think the birth mothers did some things during their pregnancies that caused some of these problems, but we are the parents now and have to make sure the bad behavior is dealt with and not use any thing as an excuse.