Children, Obey Your Parents—
Parents, Provoke Not Your Children

by Rulon G. Craven

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    In the Epistle of Paul to the Colossians it states:

    “Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord.

    “Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged.” (Col. 3:20–21.)

    Maintaining family unity and close relationships between parents and youth is the challenge and the responsibility of both parents and youth. Family unity is maintained by sensitive and understanding communication between youth and parents. Many problems in the home are created because of the way we communicate and react one to another. Parents who take time to explain, who are understanding, who are sensitive to the needs of their children, and who communicate to their children that they do understand them help their children to be obedient.

    Problems arise in the home through selfishness, through wanting things our way and not concerning ourselves with the total family and family needs. The parent who provokes his children because he doesn’t take the time to understand and communicate with them may create disharmony in the home; and youth who impose their needs and wants upon their parents may create disharmony by demanding that parents fulfill their needs.

    “Mother, where’s my blue coat?” “Why don’t I have any clean socks?” “Dad, I need the car tonight.” “Can you lend me a couple of dollars?” “Why do I have to make my bed? I don’t even turn over at night!” Many times young people tend to develop an attitude of “gimme-itis” (Mom, gimme this. Dad, gimme that), and parents become their servants.

    Children, as well as parents, must accept the prophetic statement that “the most important of the Lord’s work that you will ever do will be the work you do within the walls of your own home.” (Harold B. Lee, “Strengthening the Home,” pamphlet, p. 7.)

    A Happy Home

    Parents and youth alike should realize their responsibility to work toward a happy home. That is where the Spirit of the Lord dwells and gives greater unity, purpose, and accomplishment to the entire family.

    Consider for example the story we find in the Book of Mormon. There was great disharmony in the family of Father Lehi.

    He had two older sons who provoked their parents. Laman and Lemuel disputed with their father concerning the things he told them.

    Laman and Lemuel were more concerned about “doing their own thing” than they were about doing what was best for the family. They were continually upsetting their parents with such statements and questions as “Why must we do that? Why should we do this? No, we can’t do that!” Nephi, on the other hand, knew that his father was a righteous man and that the things Father Lehi asked of his family were the things that the Lord wanted him to ask. He asked his family out of righteousness. Even though the things that Lehi asked his sons to do were hard at times, in faith Nephi followed the counsel of his righteous father and accomplished the desires of his Father in heaven. In so doing, Nephi gained opportunities for experiences, growth, and development that prepared him for his mission in life and brought him personal happiness as well.

    Avoid the Spirit of Contention

    Youth in today’s world have an exciting and challenging life, filled with activities, responsibilities, and desires that have an impact on their home. One of the great challenges of the family is to overcome the spirit of contention. The spirit of contention creates a spirit of unhappiness, disharmony, and isolation. The Lord has stated:

    “For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.

    “Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away.” (3 Ne. 11:29–30.)

    Youth need to realize that the great demands they place on parents often conflict with what parents have to do to fulfill their own responsibilities and needs. Youth are sometimes the very cause of conflict through selfishness.

    However, when parents and youth show equal consideration, the wise youth will learn from the parent and the wise parent from the youth.

    Obey Rules in the Home

    One of the great family challenges is for parents to train and bring up a child in righteousness. In the process of righteous training, parents should allow their children to grow and develop in accordance with gospel principles. This necessitates the establishment of guidelines and rules within the home. Youth should understand that these basic rules and principles must govern their lives and that parents, by commandment, are called upon to administer these rules in a spirit of kindness and love. The Lord commands parents to teach their children:

    “And again, inasmuch as parents have children in Zion, or in any of her stakes which are organized, that teach them not to understand the doctrine of repentance, faith in Christ the Son of the living God, and of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of the hands, when eight years old, the sin be upon the heads of the parents.” (D&C 68:25.)

    President Kimball has also stated:

    “In the divine scheme every soul has been given a father whose responsibility is not only to sire and provide the necessities of life, but to train for immortality and eternal life.” (Spencer W. Kimball, Korea Area Conference, Church News, August 23, 1975, p. 4.)

    When young men and women (through peer pressure or personal desire) are in conflict with family-established rules, happiness leaves the home. But when a youth, in the spirit of acceptance, maturity, and faith, can realize the challenges and responsibilities that parents have, he more fully realizes the role of parenthood and resulting family unity. With this realization, self-mastery and obedience to rules will develop strengths and remove weaknesses from individuals in the family and will strengthen family unity.

    Communicate with Parents

    It is the responsibility of the older children (though they may not fully understand or agree with their parents) to develop the ability to talk with their parents rather than contend against them. The responsibility for developing this unity does not rest entirely upon the parent. Older youth should work toward open communication and unity with parents. The youth, through patience, love, listening, and understanding, can be instrumental in bringing about the changes that will lead to a spirit of love and unity in the home.

    Show Acceptance and Determine Needs

    Both parents and children must learn how to make each other feel accepted and needed. A person can never really know that he is accepted by another until it is demonstrated in some active way, usually through an act of kindness, obedience, cooperation, or participation. What the child expects of a parent in the areas of listening and acceptance, the child should also give to his parents.

    There are many specific suggestions that could be offered youth in developing harmony in the home and avoiding conflict with their parents. In my experience I have learned that the following may be helpful:

    Identify What Causes Conflicts

    When disagreements or conflicts arise in the home, youth must assume responsibility as well as parents. Youth will grow and create happiness if they strive diligently to identify what caused the conflict and then, in a spirit of love and discussion, think of ideas and suggestions that could solve the conflict. Together parents and youth should decide on the most acceptable solution that will bring happiness into the home and fulfill the needs of both parents and youth.


    We can develop the ability to adjust to life’s situations by striving to determine what is right. We are all blessed with a conscience in order to decide right from wrong if we really want to. Usually things that cause distress need to be looked at through self-observation. It is like detecting a wrong note when playing the piano; hearing the note itself leads to playing the right note. Disharmony in the home may be a reflection of your inner feelings. The true seeker for peace and a harmonious life will seek to find ways to adjust to situations in order to create harmony. Many times when we are involved in conflicts in the home we think others should change or adjust. I think of the tribal council where they were trying to solve the problem of rocky ground that hurt their feet. There were many suggestions, such as planting grass, smoothing out the ground, etc.; but finally the most sensible suggestion among the tribe was, “Why not pad our own feet?” The individuals made the proper adjustments.

    The great challenge, then, is not to justify our position or expect others to change, but rather to study our own positions and see if we need to adjust or change.

    Seek for Growth

    Seek for growth, development, and new experiences. Realize that growth comes from doing things you have never done before, from doing things differently, or from doing things that might be difficult or challenging and exciting. Usually challenges and opportunities come from a change in situations or from someone who has experienced life on a higher level of activity. Take, for instance, the counsel and direction Father Lehi gave to his sons, or parents whose experiences lead them to establish rules and give counsel to their children. Youth who are willing to obey and accept new challenges will find life full of opportunities and new experiences, leading to greater maturity and personal growth. The home presents many opportunities for growth and development.

    Assume Responsibility for Harmony in the Home

    Realize that if you treat parents and other family members as if they are what you would like them to be, they will become that way. Realize that when conflicts arise in the home, we must look at our own lives and talk through problems and solutions. When we spend our energies contending, we deprive ourselves of energies necessary to peacefully solve the problem. Only when you are in charge of self, when you have self-mastery and self-control, are you really free and able to assist in creating harmony in the home. Call upon the Lord to help you achieve self-control and to create harmony in the home through personal and family prayers. Prayer, individual and family, is essential for harmony in the home. The individual who seeks divine help comes closer to his or her Father in heaven and receives of the Spirit that brings understanding and inner peace. We would all do well to accept and do as Bishop H. Burke Peterson admonishes:

    “If you really want to be happy and successful, learn to pray to the Lord. Everyone should be on his or her knees every night and every morning. There is nothing you will do each day as important as praying.” (Bishop H. Burke Peterson, Korea Area Conference, Church News, August 23, 1975, p. 4.)

    [Reflections on Parents and Parenthood]

    “When my parents set down rules, they show us how they should be followed. They set a good example and observe the rules also.” Maria Covey

    “Parents need to give their children confidence. They need to show them that they believe in them and want them to succeed.” Jean Lambert

    “They maintain an atmosphere in the home that encourages healthy relationships by having family home evenings, family council meetings, and planning sessions as well as family prayer.” Lilli Kunzler

    “My parents treat me with respect. They listen to my problems and help me find my own answers. My parents have never argued because they have so much love for each other. That is why they don’t provoke me to anger; they have too much love.” No name

    “I think the main reason my parents rarely provoke me to anger is that they keep the commandments and are themselves rarely provoked to anger.” Mona Woodruff

    “My mother and father love me, and they aren’t afraid to show their love. They aren’t afraid to admit that they are wrong. I have been taught to admit my mistakes, and that really helps all of us get along.” Patty Miner

    “My parents have always praised anything I have done, whether it’s doing the dishes without being asked or getting straight A’s on my report card. If they didn’t, I would probably feel frustrated. It’s important that a young person feel that his accomplishments are worthwhile, and for me it’s very important that I know my parents approve.” No name

    “My father is always telling me he loves me (about two or three times a day), and it’s hard to be angry when I know he loves me so much.” No name

    “Good family relationships must be developed in order to communicate, and communication must be sought by both the parents and the kids.” No name

    “By my own experience, I have found that it is not so much how my parents treat me, it’s how I treat my parents.” Don Matheson