KENNER, La. (BP)–I’m grieving again. The morning newspaper confirmed the late-night phone call the other day telling of the death of a 14-year-old boy, the son of a longtime friend. He was riding one of those accursed ATVs, the four-wheelers supposedly for farmers and hunters but which we mostly see kids riding alongside highways. He took his eyes off the road and hit a tree. A senseless, needless death of a precious young man.
I remember the first time a young person in my church wrecked while riding one of those monsters. She survived the accident, but after scraping the highway with her face, she left part of herself there forever. That was 20 years ago and I still grieve for her.
This puts me in a predicament. I want to urge parents not to allow their children to ride these suicide machines, but I do not want to dump more pain on moms and dads who made this ultimate mistake and will carry their sorrow to their grave. If you’re in that category, please forgive me for the bluntness of what’s coming.
God gave children parents for a reason. Someone in the home ought to be mature enough to make wise decisions and to enforce them. That’s why the adults are in charge.
Tom Warrington worked in the emergency department at the old Baptist hospital in New Orleans while in seminary. After seeing what turning a teenager loose on these motorcycles can cause, he said, “We had a saying, ‘Buy your teen a Honda for his last birthday.'”
Some kids on my block have a go-cart. Maybe 20 inches high, this tiny car speeds down residential streets at 15 mph and scares the blazes out of me. It’s illegal, of course, for them to drive on the streets. But it’s not just the illegality that concerns me; it’s the insanity. Where are the parents? Presumably, they bought the thing for the kids, or at least allowed them to have it. What were they thinking?
These days, motorized scooters zoom up and down our neighborhood streets. They come from nowhere and are ridden by 12-year-olds who think because they can see you, you can see them. That’s the same fallacy that gets seasoned motorcycle riders killed. Educate motorists all you can, but when people pull up to an intersection, they’re looking for cars and trucks, not for people on bikes or motorcycles, and definitely not go-carts or scooters.
“But he just insisted he had to have one,” a parent protests. The answer is so simple it pains me to say it. If he insisted on a pistol, would you buy him one? If he insisted on taking up bungee-jumping or sky-diving, would you say yes? Just say no.
The problem is parents who do not want to anger their children, who cannot say no and make it stick and who will pay any price to purchase their children’s approval.
God help us. God help the children.
Standing up for your child sometimes means standing against him. It means saying no and holding your ground. Your assignment is not to be popular with your child. Sometimes, if you are a successful parent, your child will utter the dreaded words, “I don’t like you.” And because you are a mature adult, you will smile and say, “That’s fine. I like you. That’s why I’m doing this.” Period. No sermons. I guarantee you, a few hours later, a warmth will wash over the child when he or she realizes that they are truly loved. Loved in the ways that matter most.
A woman called in to Dr. Laura Schlessinger’s radio program to tell how teaching her son to obey had saved his life. “‘When I say be home at 7 o’clock, he knows I mean it,” she said. A teenager, he had recently ridden his mother’s motorcycle (I’m not making this up!!) to a friend’s house. The boy’s father asked if he could ride the cycle and off he went. The two teens went outside and got in the friend’s pickup truck and started “cutting do-nuts,” driving in tight circles for the thrill of it. The friend’s dad had not returned when it was time to go home, so the son got out of the truck and walked home. A few minutes later, another boy arrived, crawled into the pickup and they continued driving in circles. Suddenly, the truck hit a curb, the new boy was knocked out the door, and the back wheel ran over him, crushing his skull. The caller said to Dr. Laura, “My son’s obedience saved his life.”
My wife and I raised three children to adulthood with varying degrees of success. Having been there and done that, we would be the last ones on the planet to present ourselves as role models with all the answers. We made too many mistakes for that. I do, however, have a suggestion for mothers and dads who are at this moment in the thick of child-rearing and feel helpless against the pressure children exert.
Sit them down, one child at a time. Later, have a family conference to reinforce this. Tell the child you need to apologize, that you have been lax in an assignment God has given you, and as a result you’ve been cheating your children. But no more. Starting today, you’re going to obey the Lord. But to do it, you’re going to be needing their help. “God has told me I’m to teach my children to obey me. Without arguing or excuses or protests. I am to teach you to obey me the first time I tell you. And I’m willing to do it. It’s going to be hard, and that’s why I’m asking for your help. My job is to obey God, and your job is to obey me, without whining or arguing. Now, I want us to practice.” Let that soak in and say, “Would you go in the kitchen and bring me a glass of water, please.” Do not argue or explain, but sit there silently. When he does it, brag on him, then give another command. Tell him that from time to time, you will have a drill to practice. You’ll be giving an order that may interrupt his homework or telephone call, and you expect obedience. (You can ease up on the details after the children have mastered the process.)
After the individual conferences, later in the day get the whole family together and go over the material again. If anyone balks, stop immediately and have a private conference with that one. Then, return to the family gathering.
“Mom? Dad? What will happen if we do not obey the first time?” The question is bound to come up. The answer is: “It will mean you didn’t understand me. Because I know you love me and want to obey me. So, if you disobey, we’ll stop whatever we’re doing and have this little talk all over again.” Expect to be tested on this to see if you really are serious.
All around us we see parents who get through the years in fine shape, with their children ready for adulthood. They’re doing something right. In most cases, closer investigation reveals they have taught their children to obey. “Children, be obedient to your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing to the Lord” (Colossians 3:20).
Remember, this command was issued in a Christian community to those who take their discipleship to Jesus seriously. That’s not all the Bible has to say on the subject, but it’s the right place to begin. Your grandmother was right: “Well begun is half done.”
Joe McKeever is pastor of First Baptist Church in Kenner, La., and a regular cartoonist with BP Lighter Side.