Living Up to the Fourth Commandment — Honor thy Father and Mother
The Antidote in Correcting the Behavior of Unruly Children
As a practicing psychologist for over forty years, I have worked with more than my share of unruly children and their parents. Needless to say, poorly disciplined children can be a destructive force within the family. The unruly behavior of our youth is much more common now than it was when I began practicing in the early 1970’s. In fact, recalcitrant and volatile children, if they meet the appropriate criteria, are currently labeled as being inflicted with an Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) in the Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association 5th Edition (DSM-V). According to the DSM-V, children and adolescents, who are diagnosed with ODD, engage in defiant, hostile behavior such as excessive arguing, the refusal to obey rules, blaming others for self-created problems, and behaving in an angry, resentful, and vindictive fashion. Although ODD is identified as a psychiatric disorder, it is my opinion that its characteristics are quite common to many of our so called “normal" youth who are being reared in today’s Godless society.
Let me begin by describing the behavior of children who might be diagnosed with ODD and referred for psychological services by their parents. First and foremost, ODD youth are usually resistant to the notion that they need help of any sort. They present themselves as having “an attitude," a chip on their shoulder you might say. ODD children are well versed in the use of foul language, sprinkled with four letter words that would burn the ears of a hardened sailor. Like a catapult, these are frequently and forcefully hurled at those adults who dare to put limits on their behavior. Explosive reactions and telling parents to “Shut up!" are common. An “I don’t care!" and “You can’t make me do it!" attitude permeates their interactions with those in authority. Melt downs of major proportions occur when they are asked to complete important tasks or help with chores around the home. Almost all requests are met with wise cracks, whining, or back talk. When something unpleasant must be done, they repeatedly ask “Why?" as though a satisfactory answer to this simple question would lead to compliance. Disciplinary measures are perceived as being “mean" and the threat of calling 911 and reporting their parents for “child abuse" occurs when punishments are enacted.
Children with ODD often resist getting up in the morning. When they finally drag themselves out of bed, they are surly and procrastinate in getting ready for school. There is never enough time to eat, groom, or to adequately prepare for the day ahead. Breakfast is rushed or not eaten, brushing their teeth is ignored; homework is incomplete; and school materials are either misplaced or forgotten. And what about morning prayers? These, if they were ever taught to the child in the first place, are put aside. Mom and dad are so engrossed in nagging their children into completing worldly tasks, there is no time for the Morning Offering and being right with God in starting the day.
As the day progresses, the problems continue to intensify. There is the usual round of arguments over the completion of homework, chores, and how much time should be spent on the computer. Battles occur with siblings, eating meals properly, and getting to bed on time. Again, the strain and stress of the above can easily lead to ignoring or giving minimal attention to evening prayers. God and the state of one’s soul can take second place when worldly matters dominate our thinking.
As noted previously, this author contends that ODD behavior is quite common to children and adolescents reared in today’s modern society. Smart mouthing, defying, threatening, and disrespecting parents and adults in authority have become ever present in our movies, television programs, and everyday life. It does not take a psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker, or mental health professional to see that this is a problem, which has gradually worsened over the past half century.
Believe it or not, it was not always this way. There was a time when children respected their elders and treated them accordingly. Obedience was viewed as a virtue and young people experienced feelings of guilt when they failed to follow the rules and complete those tasks that were assigned to them. “Please" and “Thank you" were an ordinary part of a young person’s verbal repertoire. Foul language was not permitted and children behaved civilly in the presence of parents, teachers, and adults in authority. Young people wanted to please adults and earn the praise that was given when they behaved properly. Why did this occur back then? Why is this not occurring today? Why is it that ODD characteristics are so common in today’s youth?
In order to answer these questions, it is necessary to reflect on what family life is like today. Unlike fifty years ago, both parents are usually employed outside the home. Dad, who was once the sole “bread winner," now shares this role with mom. Mom is no longer able to stay at home and attend to household matters. Rather, her income has become a necessity for paying the bills. Of course, there is a price to pay when both parents work. The mornings, for example, can be particularly hectic. Coordinating a rigid schedule so that everyone is off to work and school on time can be a major undertaking. If any of the children drag their feet in the process, the task can become onerous. More often than not, this leads to parental nagging, yelling, and hostile interactions between mom, dad, and the children. Mom and dad might begin openly arguing in front of the children, blaming them or each other for the chaos in the family. As stress rises, they might even curse and use foul language in venting their frustration. When everyone finally leaves the house, anger, hurt feelings, and resentment are the foundation upon which the day begins.
Again, the day doesn’t get much better as the evening approaches. Either mom or dad picks up the children at the Day Care Center. Because there is no one in charge of the household, there are numerous tasks that still need to be completed. The first battle is getting the children to finish their homework. Parents insist that the homework be done right away. Children, on the other hand, argue that they will do it later. Any astute parent knows that the longer homework is delayed, the less likely it will be done. This battle could go on for hours. Besides, dinner has to be prepared; the table has to be set; laundry needs to be attended to; and other household tasks need to be completed. Stress remains high and it doesn’t take much to upset the applecart. Sibling quarreling, for example, could lead to a major blow-up. The joys of family life become a myth, far removed from reality.
Dad is one of the first casualties of this incessant family circus. There is an old saying “A man’s home is his castle." Never mind being treated like a “King." That doesn’t exist any longer. Instead of coming home to his castle, dad feels like he is going to a second job. Deep down inside he wishes that he could make enough money so mom didn’t have to work. He really wants to be the sole “bread winner" and “King" of his castle but economics dictate otherwise.
Mom is frustrated as well. She wants to be a full time mother who cares for her children and runs a well-ordered home. However, given the current financial situation, this is not possible. Mom is exhausted from being a “bread winner." She is frustrated with dad because he doesn’t do enough around the house. Mom vehemently points out that, like dad, she also works all day. She insists that dad do his fair share of the household responsibilities, even if these are “woman’s work." Dad, who is suffering from battle fatigue, thinks that she is too demanding. She needs to “chill out." Dad tries to be the voice of reason — the “head" of the household. But mom’s criticisms hurt his feelings. He feels inadequate because he is unable to make more money. Moreover, he feels guilty because he is unable to please mom and live up to her expectations. Dad keeps these feelings locked away inside. He would deny that these exist if they were pointed out to him. However, his pride is tweaked and this hurts more than mom will ever know.
The confusion of roles is at the root of the problems between mom and dad. This leads to arguments about money, how it should be spent, and why there is never enough, even though they are both working. The children’s behavior and why they are uncooperative, disobedient, and disrespectful is another bone of contention. These arguments, like those that occur in the morning, may get heated. Again, foul language and cursing may take place. The old saying that “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree" applies here. Children emulate that which they observe at home and in the Day Care Center. The latter now plays a large part in rearing our youth.
We, as a society, have failed to recognize that unruly childhood behavior is the result of our failure to make God and His commandments the center of family life. Without God and His Church to guide them, parents and their offspring have slipped into a cesspool of secularism. In their quest for the goods of the world, the role of mothers and fathers has become blurred and reversed. Dad, the once revered “head" of the family, is no longer viewed as the wise decision maker who leads his wife and children. The old notion that “Father Knows Best" (a highly rated television program in the 1950’s) is long gone. Fathers are now depicted as buffoons who are ridiculed and mocked for behaving incompetently. How can children “honor" a father who has been cast in such a light? And what about mothers who were once viewed as the “heart" of the family? A mother was a nurturer whose feminine qualities and unconditional love gave strength to her husband and children in the best and worst of times. Mom was truly “the power behind the throne." Her gentleness and compassion had a powerful influence on dad and the decisions that he made. Now that women have become hardened like men, they are no longer “the power behind the throne." Rather, they are the power, openly vetoing dad’s decisions and undermining his authority. How many battles are fought over this issue? We are all familiar with the term “power struggle." Isn’t this what is happening today?
Now that no one is the “head" of the household, fathers and mothers argue more than ever. Although financial matters, child rearing, and other worldly issues spawn these ongoing confrontations, the real problem is the struggle over their roles. God, in His infinite wisdom, intended that men should be the “head" and women the “heart" of the family. He endowed them with those qualities needed to fulfill these roles accordingly. It is the unnatural blurring and reversal of these, which are at the root of today’s family dysfunction. How can children “honor" their parents when they fail to act as God intended? How can parents set a proper example when their marriage is founded on discontent arising from the battle between the sexes? If you doubt this, check the current divorce figures. Divorce lawyers are making millions of dollars in what has become a very profitable industry.
Ignoring God and His laws has led young people into “dishonoring" rather than “honoring thy father and mother." While the worldly secularists might take the fourth commandment lightly, God hardly views this to be so. Quotations from the Old and New Testament show that God means business and that the failure to honor one’s parents can lead to the damnation of his or her soul. For example, consider the following:
Leviticus 20:9. “Anyone who curses his father and mother shall be put to death: since he has cursed his father or mother he has forfeited his life."
Leviticus 20:20. “If one curses his father or mother, his lamp will go out at the coming of darkness."
Deuteronomy 27:16. (one of the Twelve Curses). “Cursed be he who dishonors his father or his mother! And all people shall answer, ‘Amen.’ “
Luke 18:18-20. “And a certain ruler asked him saying, “Good Master," what shall I do to gain eternal life? But Jesus said to him…Thou knowest the commandments…Honor thy father and mother."
Matthew 15:4-6. “For God said Honor thy father and thy mother; and let him who curses father or mother be put to death."
As one can see, unless parents fill their roles honorably, marital discord and defiant, disobedient, and disrespectful children can be expected to follow. Parents must set a good example. Most importantly, however, bringing God back into the home is needed. Children must be taught the meaning of the fourth commandment and that the failure to keep this could be mortally sinful. Oppositional Defiance may be identified as a behavioral disorder in the psychiatric community, however, it is my opinion that most children, who behave in this way, are willfully defying God’s law, even though they may not be fully aware of the seriousness of this offense.
In order to correct unruly behavior, parents need to teach their children that behaving defiantly is displeasing to God. Moreover, the failure to show remorse and make restitution to Our Lord for violating His law could lead to the loss of his or her soul. The nefarious tactics of the devil and the existence of hell need to be emphasized. Even Our Blessed Mother, Who is most merciful, showed the children of Fatima a brief vision of hell so they would understand that God severely punishes those who defy His commandments.
The importance of the sacrament of Confession needs to be emphasized. In the past the frequent reception of this sacrament was encouraged and taken seriously. Mortal sin was not confused with mental or behavior disorders. Children actually feared telling the priest that they dishonored their parents. This could lead to a good tongue lashing, along with a stiff penance for being disobedient. Young people learned to have a “healthy fear" of the priest — a fear which was based on the awe and reverence of him and his authority. It was the awe and reverence of the priest’s holy office that helped to keep unruly behavior in check. Catholic youth were expected to behave properly not only in Church but at home, school, and in the community. Unfortunately, the “healthy fear" of the priest and adults in authority has diminished significantly over the past fifty years. As a result, unruly behavior has worsened. A “healthy fear" of legitimate adult authority needs to be restored now more than ever.
Teaching our youth to fear the consequences of sinful behavior was stressed in the years gone by. As a result, those who were in positions of authority were treated deferentially. The power to punish was taken seriously by both children and adults. This might appear to be harsh by today’s standards. However, even Our Lord, Who is all-merciful, warned us to have a “healthy fear" of His power. Consider His words:
Luke 12:4-6. “But I say to you my friends; Do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that nothing more can they do. But I will show you whom to be afraid of; be afraid of him who, after he has killed, has the power to cast into hell. Yes, I say to you, be afraid of him."
In our spiritually dulled and presumptuous society, parents and children need to take Our Lord’s words seriously. Proper parental roles need to be restored. Children must be taught to respect the fourth commandment as Christ and His Church intended. More than ever, saving the souls of mothers, fathers, and their offspring depend on this.
Saint Joseph the “head" and Mary Our Mother the “heart" of the Holy Family, pray for us.