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What does Proverbs tell us about a child left to himself (Proverbs 29:15)?

child left to himself

M. Scott Peck, Christian psychologist and author of The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth, writes, “Discipline is the basic set of tools we require to solve life’s problems. Without discipline we can solve nothing” (Touchstone, 2003, p. 4). Throughout Proverbs, King Solomon recognizes the benefits of disciplining children: “The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother” (Proverbs 29:15, ESV).

Wisdom literature often employs hyperbole, or exaggerated expression, to emphasize important concepts. In Proverbs 29:15, “the rod and reproof” are intended to stress the idea of discipline and not necessarily advocate for the use of physical punishment. In simpler, more straightforward language, the passage might read, “Discipline produces wisdom, but a child left undisciplined brings disgrace to his mother.” A child left to himself is never given the loving parental guidance and attention needed to develop self-discipline and problem-solving skills for the future.

Parents who neglect to shape and influence their children through discipline do them a disservice: “Those who spare the rod of discipline hate their children. Those who love their children care enough to discipline them” (Proverbs 13:24, NLT). Again, the word hate is a strong term meant to accentuate the idea that discipline is serious business: “Discipline your children while there is hope. Otherwise you will ruin their lives” (Proverbs 19:18, NLT). Discipline may even be a matter of life and death: “Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish them with the rod, they will not die. Punish them with the rod and save them from death” (Proverbs 23:13–14).

Parents who raise their children with proper discipline give them a sure foundation and markers to keep them on the right path throughout their lives: “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it” (Proverbs 22:6; see also Proverbs 6:23). Rightly administered discipline helps build character and self-discipline in children (Proverbs 22:15; 20:30). It will protect them from harm in the future (Proverbs 10:17). Children who learn to obey their parents are more likely to demonstrate healthy, respectful obedience to other authority figures later in life (Ephesians 6:2–3; Romans 13:1–7).

Discipline is proof of God’s love as well as parental love: “My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline, and do not resent his rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in” (Proverbs 3:11–12). Solomon does not endorse cruel and overbearing physical punishment. Instead, he supports tenderness and loving instruction (Proverbs 4:3–11). The writer of Hebrews explains that true, godly discipline has its source in love (Hebrews 12:5–11; cf. Deuteronomy 8:5). A child left to himself is not being shown the fullness of love that God intends. Just as God’s discipline “produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11), a parent’s correction produces a harvest of wisdom, character, and life-affirming skills in his or her children.

In Proverbs 29:15, Solomon focuses on the child’s need for discipline from a mother’s point of view. In biblical times, fathers may have been more inclined to discipline their children too severely. For this reason, the apostle Paul urges, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4; see also Colossians 3:21). Mothers, on the other hand, may have tended toward leniency. Solomon reminds mothers that proper discipline is beneficial to their children, even if it does require “the rod”—a physical form of correction like spanking. In the end, discipline will cause a mother to be proud of her children. But a child left to himself will behave foolishly and bring her only shame, sorrow, and bitterness (Proverbs 10:1; 17:25).

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What does Proverbs tell us about a child left to himself (Proverbs 29:15)?
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This page last updated: July 26, 2023