Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far from him. Proverbs 22:15
"You just have to understand Billy. He doesn’t intend to be mean or destructive when he throws rocks at cars, pushes smaller children down, and talks back to adults. He has always been like this and doesn’t mean anything by it. He just has a lot of energy and a mischievous spirit. But, people don’t even try to understand him. It really isn’t fair to Billy."
Bill has lived in every community I have, and with him there has been a mom (and sometimes a dad) that has worked very hard to make everyone around Billy overlook his misbehavior and accept him as he is. This mom darts from church to school to the baseball field to the cub scout meeting trying to convince the minsters, teachers, coaches and den leaders that the problems they have with Billy really aren’t the fault of Billy. It is their own lack of understanding and intolerance.
At first I was sympathetic with Billy’s mom (all of them). I assumed that the mom had some insight in to her son’s psychological make-up that accounted for his disrespect for adults and lack of regard for his peers. If I just observed the boy long enough I would pick up the psychological cues, would indeed understand, and would be able to help others tolerate Billy’s rudeness and misbehavior. Further, I might even be able to help Billy better adjust.
After observing several such disobedient sons and protective parents it dawned on me that Billy’s main problem was he was simply a badly behaved boy who needed time behind a woodshed.
It further dawned on me that I didn’t need to understand anything more about Billy than what was already clearly observable: Billy misbehaves and no one in his life expects him to do better. Instead, they expect everyone to accept Billy as he is, without administering any corrective measures.
The truth is, Billy needs to understand me. If he is an eleven year old boy in my congregation, my classroom, my cub scout den or on my baseball team, he needs to understand that I am the adult, I am in charge, and he better behave. And if he doesn’t, he can expect some kind of discipline.
To expect adults (and other kids) to just understand and accept a disrespectful and disobedient child is unfair to the adults and the other kids. Further, it is terribly destructive for the disobedient child. For the rest of us to understand Billy and overlook his poor behavior means, first of all, that we need to honor Billy as the center of the universe. Does Billy’s mom really expect churches, school systems and community athletic programs to revise their rules to accommodate a little boy who has no regard for anyone? Everyone else’s feelings and rights are to be set aside in the interest of the little tyrant. What a recipe for future criminal behavior on the part of Billy and all the other children like him.
Secondly, for the rest of us to have to understand and accept aberrant behavior means Billy will always be right, no matter how disorderly he acts. If he trips another child, sasses the teacher, disrupts a Bible class, mocks his teammates, and organizes a gang of other badly behaved children to vandalize school property, it simply isn’t Billy’s fault. When Billy’s behavior is wrong, every other social system (and eventually, the police department and judicial system) is out of line. Everyone else is at fault except the one person who misbehaved!
Finally, to force everyone else to understand and comply with Billy’s bad behavior guarantees that Billy will never grow up. He will never mature and assume his place in life as a responsible adult. He will always expect everyone to overlook his offensive speech and actions. After all, ever since he was a small child his mother lectured everyone in his life that, "Billy isn’t a bad boy even when he does bad things. You just have to understand him." Raised with that kind of overprotective care ensures that Billy will be frozen in his delinquent behavior, even when he is thirty years old.
Billy’s Mom is wrong. Instead of trying to get everyone else in his world to understand Billy, she needs to make her son understand the adults. Her goal is to help Billy mature as a man and become like the responsible adults in his life. To do that, he must learn to understand the adult world or he will never progress into it.
For too long society has been trying to understand Billy instead of making him behave. That has to change for Billy’s sake. Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far from him.