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Authority: Is It Good or Bad?

A lot of people think of "authority" as a bad word; it brings to mind images of drill sergeants, mean teachers, and dictators.

Each of those examples is a person in a position of authority; they've been given a position "over" individuals in order to make sure they do or don't do certain things, in order to accomplish a particular purpose. Drill sergeants exist to train soldiers to obey orders, but are known for yelling. Teachers exist to teach students how to think, and help them to learn a body of knowledge, but sometimes they use their authority in a harsh way. Dictators are in leadership over nations; their job is to lead, but their authority isn't always legitimate, and they use it in very controlling ways.

In each of these situations, it's the way authority is used that is the problem, not the authority itself. Having authority just means you have a responsibility to lead and keep order so that you accomplish a particular end result.

All parents are in authority over their children. They have the enormous and blessed responsibility to lead and bring up their children to be good people. They can use their authority harshly, or they can use it in the way that it's meant to be used: firmly, wisely, lovingly. But the authority must be used or there will be chaos.

Here's the thing: children are not wise. Now, parents may not FEEL wise, but they have far more wisdom than children, partly just because they've lived so much longer, and hopefully also because they have learned some wisdom from their life experiences, parents, teachers, and mentors.

If you're reading this, you're probably a parent. If you resist telling your children what to do, or have found yourself in arguments with them, being disrespected by them, or had trouble getting them to pay attention and do what say, you probably don't fully understand your position, your authority.

Maybe you try to reason with your kids, so that they'll understand why you want them to do certain things. Or maybe you try to persuade them by enticing them with rewards, or you find yourself negotiating with them: "if you do this, I'll do that".

That's not the way effective authority works. Policemen don't try to persuade people to obey the law; sergeants don't make suggestions to soldiers; teachers make "assignments" not requests. In no situation do any of these authority figures ask those under their authority how they "feel" about the things they require of them, or ask them if they want to obey the law, follow orders, or complete assignments. They expect those under their authority to do what they've been told, and those under the authority expect there to be negative consequences if they don't.

You're the parent. You're the one in authority. Tell your kids what you want them to do; don't hint at it, don't couch it in "Hey, buddy!" language or ask "Why don't you . . ?" or "Don't you think it's time for you to . . ?", etc. You don't need to yell, just tell. Expect them to do it. If they don't, be sure to bring on a consequence so they know to expect that you mean what you say, and unpleasant things happen when they ignore you.

This is by far the most fair and just way to communicate with children. Any other way is misleading to them because anything else comes across as a suggestion they can choose to ignore or opt out of. And if you don't consistently correct them with negative consequences, you're confirming exactly that--it was only a suggestion. So don't yell at them if they don't do what you want, when everything you say communicates that they have an option!

Clearly state your expectations with authority: No harshness. No yelling. No begging, reasoning, coercing, manipulating, bribing, persuading, or begging, and only say it once. Just simple, clear instructions, and simple, straightforward consequences.

Dare to step into the authority you've already been given. Your children will thank you for it, sooner than you think.

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