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Christian Parenting: Who's to Blame When Children Don't Grow Up The Way They Were Taught?

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A lot of damage has been done in citing Proverbs 22.6 to parents:

"Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it."

Parents whose kids don't turn out as hoped tend to blame themselves because of an uncritical use of Proverbs 22.6. There's something deterministic about the text, like dominoes falling and a clear chain of cause and effect. If we had trained up our child properly, we think, they would have turned out okay. So we must have done something wrong.

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But the Bible is never so clear about such things. There are countervailing witnesses and testimonies. Against Proverbs 22.6, consider the witness of Ezekiel 18:20:

The one who sins is the one who will die. The child will not share the guilt of the parent, nor will the parent share the guilt of the child. The righteousness of the righteous will be credited to them, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against them.

Your virtue is your own, says Ezekiel 18:20. Parents will not share in the guilt of their children. Nor will children share in the guilt of their parents.

All that to say, the Bible presents a complicated picture regarding the relationship between parenting and moral development. Yes, we do have the obligation to train up children in the way they should go. But at the end of the day, a righteous parent will not share in the guilt of an unrighteous child.

And from time to time, it's good to remind parents of that fact.

Richard Beck is author and professor of psychology at Abilene Christian University. You can follow him at

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