There are thousands of parenting theories out there. Attachment parenting. Instinctive parenting. Helicopter parenting. Airplane parenting. Un-parenting. Koala bear parenting. Among these is a technique highly recommended as an essential tool in any parent’s repertoire: redirection parenting.
Redirection parenting is when you find your child doing an “inappropriate” activity, and you redirect them into a more positive activity. One online parenting website gives this basic example: “If your toddler is throwing sand at a playmate, remove him from the sandbox and offer a ball instead.”
Redirection is kind of like the game of Pong. Mom and Dad are like the two paddles sliding up and down the edges with the objective of keeping their child bouncing back and forth inside the screen. As long as the parents are constantly redirecting their child’s energy, he will always remain “in play.”
Does Redirection Parenting Work?
The book of Judges gives a great example of redirection parenting in the life of Samson. Let us consider the outcome of Manoah and his wife’s pong parenting in Judges 14:
Step 1: Redirect your child.
Samson goes down to the land of his enemies, the Philistines. He falls head over heels in lust for a certain woman and demands that his parents acquire her for him to be his wife. When Samson comes to them wanting to do what God clearly forbids, what do they do? They go into full redirection mode:
But his father and mother said to him, “Is there not a woman among the daughters of your relatives, or among all our people, that you must go to take a wife from the uncircumcised Philistines?” (Judges 14:3)
Samson is engaging in an “unproductive” behavior. Mom and Dad immediately seek to redirect his energies toward a different woman. They offer alternatives. They seek to bounce him in another direction. There is no mention that Samson is making plans to break God’s clear commands. No call to obey God. Just a lively round of Pong.
Step 2: Your child remains a fool.
Is Samson deterred by his parents’ efforts? His response says it all:
“Get her for me as my wife, for she is right in my eyes.” (Judges 14:3)
The technical, theological term for a man like Samson is fool. Proverbs tells us that “the way of a fool is right in his own eyes” (Proverbs 12:15). A fool makes his own rules and sets his own standards. Redirection parenting never confronts Samson with his guilt nor does it show him that he is a sinner walking in disobedience to God.
Samson continues in his foolishness. He charts his own course. He refuses to be deflected. He walks according to his folly doing what is right in his own eyes [I won’t get into it here, but Samson’s eyes are his constant downfall until they are finally gouged out by the Philistines when they capture him].
Step 3: Your child becomes a hypocrite.
The redirection method teaches Samson that all his parents care about is positive behavior. And so, he begins to live two lives: one in public view of his parents and one in private. On his first trip down to make wedding arrangements, he was attacked by a lion, and the Spirit empowered him to tear the lion limb from limb. The next trip down for the wedding, this happened:
And he turned aside to see the carcass of the lion, and behold, there was a swarm of bees in the body of the lion, and honey. He scraped it out onto his hands and went on, eating as he went. And he came to his father and mother and gave some to them, and they ate. But he did not tell them that he had scraped the honey from the carcass of the lion. (Judges 14:8-9)
In his public life Samson is offering delicious honey to his parents. In his private life he is scooping food out of dead lion carcasses and violating God’s clear command not to eat any unclean thing. When their son offered them honey that smelled a bit like a dead lion carcass, his parents assumed the best. As long as they saw positive behavior, they were happy to remain ignorant of their son’s sin. Samson’s parents gave him all the tools necessary to be a clever hypocrite, a delightful pharisee, a “good” little boy.
Don’t Encourage Redirection. Encourage Repentance.
How do we escape this parent trap? Consider this alternative:
Step 1: Remind your child of God’s command.
When Samson came to his father and and demanded that he get a Philistine woman for him as a wife, Manoah should have reminded him of God’s commands. He and his wife had received clear instructions from God regarding their son in Judges 13. He should have said, “Son, God has specifically commanded us not to marry the Philistine women. You, son, are a Nazirite set apart for the purposes of God, and you should not join yourself to the daughter of an uncircumcised Philistine.”
It is the duty of parents to confront their children with the commands of God. This is why it is so important for us to know God’s word. We have the responsibility to know it for ourselves and also to teach it to our children. When our children sin, our job is not to redirect them but to point them to the commands of God.
Step 2: Your child grows in wisdom.
While redirection leaves the child a fool, reminding our children of God’s commands teaches them wisdom. Paul tells us in Romans 3:20, “…through the law comes knowledge of sin.” If we never confront our children with God’s law, they never learn that they are a sinner. We must teach them to see themselves how God sees them: they are a sinner in need of salvation. A fool walks according to his own eyes. A wise man walks according to God’s eyes. Samson’s life could have taking a different turn if his parents were intentional in raising a wise son rather than a “well-behaved” son.
Step 3: Call your child to repent and believe the Gospel.
Homes where parents settle for redirection and children are good hypocrites have no need for the Gospel. Children who never actually feel like sinners never see a need for a Savior. Samson’s parents should have driven at repentance, not redirection. Children like Samson who are constantly redirected are taught to hide their sins and bury their guilt. Parents who confront their children with God’s Word and expose sin give them the opportunity to experience the freedom of God’s grace through Christ that cleanses every guilt and stain.
The prophet Isaiah tells us, “All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned–every one–to his own way.” The second half of the verse doesn’t read: “And the LORD has redirected us all to the right path.” No, Isaiah tells us something much more comforting: “And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6). Foolish sheep like Samson don’t need redirection. Your children don’t need to be ponged back into more productive activities. They need a Savior. We all do. God’s plan is not to redirect His children. God’s plan is to save sinners.