Our culture doesn’t just push independence; it pushes premature maturity. The number one hindrance to gentle discipline is an unrealistic expectation of what a child is capable of at a given age. People expect obedience from 1 year olds, 4 year olds, even 10 year olds and become frustrated with their child and themselves as parents when children don’t perform according to their wishes. But expanding our view of childhood to run until the age of 21 gives us a more realistic window-a more gradual turning over of the accountability for being successful. If we don’t expect logic from a 5 year old or reason from a 12 year old we can respond to them with much more grace.
The important thing is that we take advantage of this window of opportunity in our children and disciple them. We must grow them up and discipline (teach) them; we must chastise (correct) them and we must reason together about what is good and just and right. We must not spare or lay aside our responsibility to be the authority in our children’s lives and properly parent them. We must train them up in the way they should go so that when they are old they will not depart from it. And we must model for them what appropriate behavior looks like-not expecting more from them than we are willing to put forth ourselves.
A person younger than 21 who does something wrong is being childish. A person over the age of 21 who does something they know to be wrong is being a fool. The use of the word “fool” in Scripture is never used of a child. It is understood by the Biblical authors that you can’t expect something from a person that they are unable to give-so “fool” is reserved as a title for someone who has been trained to know better but still chooses to do wrong.
Some “experts” go so far as to say that the first time a child does something wrong it is childishness, but once you have corrected them and they do it again it becomes foolishness. This idea is not at all supported by Scripture! There is one verse in the Bible that many use to apply all of the verses about fools to children. It is Proverbs 22:15, “Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.” Many will argue, based on this verse alone, that children are fools and deserving of the mandate in Proverbs 26:3, “A whip for the horse, a bridle for the ass, and a rod for the fool’s back.” But this interpretation shows a clear misunderstanding of the verse-whether studied in English or in the original Hebrew.