Ten-year-old Caitlin has had a bad day. Some friends were unkind to her at church. She has discovered that she is no longer considered to be “in” with some of the popular girls. She is sad and despondent around the house. Her dad doesn’t know why she is “down,” but reasons that she needs to snap out of it. So he says something like, “Caitlin, it is not good for you to be so down. You attitude is discouraging everyone else in the house. God wants you to be happy and pleasant to others. So, I want you to exercise some self-control and stop being so sad right now. Okay? It is time for you to snap out of this.”
Now, even though everything he said was true, these words were not helpful, but rotten. (Ephesians 4:29) should not be down and gloomy. She does need to remember that she has much to be thankful to God for. Yet these words, spoken in this context, constitute rotten words. These words were spoken without any attempt to listen first, to understand what would benefit Caitlin in her struggle at the moment. There was no attempt to find out why she was sad. For a child Caitlin’s age, finding out suddenly that she is being excluded from the group of girls she thought were friends is devastating. Saying things that are true but not appropriate to the situation will lead to a breakdown in communication and in relationship. Once Dad is able to understand what Caitlin is struggling with, he can begin to bring the right scriptural principles to bear.
This is where frustration often takes root in a parent’s relationship with his growing children. He says things that he knows are true and should be helpful. He becomes upset when he sees that his words are met with silence, anger or indifference. His child, on the other hand, is also frustrated. She is hurting from apparently being tossed aside by her friends. This is all that she can think about. All Dad can do is spout rules. Dad doesn’t know and Dad doesn’t care. This kind of breakdown can lead to some rough times ahead. At least part of the solution is speaking words that helpfully meet the problem of the moment.
For ten-year-old Caitlin, hearing you dispense true statements that seem to be disconnected from her life will make for a rocky arrival for the teenage Caitlin. She will be convinced that you don’t understand her or really know her. That is why we study what the Bible says about having active ears, ears that seek out knowledge about your children. To be a parent who is holy and not ordinary means truly understanding what rotten words are. Paul warns parents not to exasperate their children. Speaking words that are true but not relevant or helpful is one sure way to exasperate your children.
From Everyday Talk, Chapter 7