Chapter thirteen contains one of the best known and most controversial of the proverbs: “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him” (vs. 24).
This passage is most often depreciated by young parents who have not completed the rearing of their children, or by social scientists (professional or lay observers) who either have never reared children or who have done a miserable job of it. I have never heard a parent of successful, well-adjusted adult children deny the value of corporal punishment (though social pressure often keeps them from discussing it).
The passage does not advocate the regular beating of children – nor abusing them. It, along with a host of other proverbs, advocates attention to the disciplining of children. Children are not born with manners or a social conscience. They are born self-centered. They want what they want when they want it. This is a divine preservative. A parent cannot read a child’s mind. It’s hard to know when one is wet, dirty, feeling ill, or hungry, or just tired beyond reason. Since a newborn cannot solve these problems for itself, it must depend on parents and without a vocabulary or a sense of timing, noisy crying is all that is left.
In time, however, children must learn to communicate, gauge urgency, and be mindful of time and place and the reality of social decorum. They must learn, and a parent must teach. Parents do this by grades of discipline, with the grade increasing in intensity as the seriousness of the infraction (or the unwillingness to learn) increases. Eventually, a rod may be necessary.
What kind of rod? That may also depend on the child. Corporal punishment is not effective for all children. Other forms may have to be used. On the other hand, corporal punishment is usually effective, and denotes the seriousness of the offense. Used judiciously, it need only be used for a brief time (usually before the teenage years) to punish while instilling respect and yes, even healthy fear. It’s both respect and fear that serve as boundaries of the wise path that leads to a successful life. On the other hand, a child whose parents are not actively engaged in discipline will end up with a child who will bring them nothing but disgrace (29:15).