By Lydia Teh

This week there was a letter to the newspaper from a teacher in Seremban which was titled, “Parents, discipline your children from young.”

The writer described a young boy of about four or five years of age who ran havoc in a clinic and hit the metal queue posts so hard that they rocked noisily. All through the ruckus, the mother did nothing to stop the boy.

An elderly lady seated beside the writer commented that the boy was being active. The latter disagreed and said that the boy has behaved badly. Based on 30 years of teaching experience, he (or she) thinks that this boy will grow up to be problematic and urges parents to discipline their children from young.

I am reminded of a godly man who failed as a parent, a priest no less. Eli was a good man who served God faithfully but was found lacking in the parenting department. What did Eli do? Or rather what didn’t he do?

“For I have told him that I will judge his house forever for the iniquity which he knows, because his sons made themselves vile, and he did not restrain them” 1 Sam. 3:13.

Eli did not discipline his sons, Hophni and Phinehas when they were young. When they grew up, they became corrupt and immoral, stealing from the Lord’s offering and sleeping with women who came to the tabernacle (1 Sam. 2:12-16, 22).

Truth be told, Eli did scold his sons for their bad behaviour: “Now Eli was very old; and he heard everything his sons did to all Israel, and how they lay with the women who assembled at the door of the tabernacle of meeting. So he said to them, “Why do you do such things? For I hear of your evil dealings from all the people.  No, my sons! For it is not a good report that I hear. You make the Lord’s people transgress” 1 Sam. 2:22-24.

By this time the boys had become adults. Could they have been saved from their transgressions? Perhaps if Eli had done something to “restrain them,” they might not have to face God’s wrath and punishment. Perhaps he could have removed them from their office to stop the rot.

But by then it was already too late. There is a Malay proverb, “Melentur aur biarlah dari rebungnya.” This translates directly to bending a bamboo must be done when it’s a shoot. Figuratively it means that a child’s upbringing must start from an early age. If the child is not brought up with the right values and morals, it would be very difficult to change him when he is grown. If he a child is not disciplined from young, when he’s older he would not take kindly to it.

In the case of Eli, he allowed his sons to do as they pleased. Even his reproof was pretty mild. They just shook it off like water off a duck’s back.

Scolding is not discipline. If the mother of the boy in the clinic had ticked him off with, “Boy, stop running and don’t hit the metal post,” but did nothing when he did not obey her, it would be only N.A.T.O. – no action, talk only. Proper discipline in this example would mean warning the boy of the consequences of disobedience, and then carrying it out.

Recently I came across some video clips on social media showing children screaming at their parents for something or other. There was one boy who was yelling at his mother for having caned him the wrong way. It should have been gentler, according to him. The mother wasn’t angry, in fact she couldn’t help smiling when he grabbed her hand and demonstrated how it should have been done. Plenty of commenters warned that this mouthing off may be cute at a young age, but when they grow up, it won’t be cute anymore; in fact it will be downright nasty. Insolence and disrespect are never cute.

Young parents, please bend your little bamboo when they are mere shoots. Don’t be like Eli who “did not restrain” his children when they were young. They grew up to be self-entitled people who did not respect authority and even dared to rob God. Consequently both of them died in battle on the same day, and when Eli heard the news, he fell and broke his neck. What a sad ending for Eli and his family (1 Sam. 4:10-11, 18).

We all want happy endings, which we can get if we “train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it (Prov. 22:6).