Why Children Need to Obey Their Parents

Although obeying parents is a key precept in the Chinese teachings about xiao` 孝 (how-3 in Cantonese), among a lot of parents nowadays it’s no longer fashionable to demand that children be obedient. Often children ask, why should they obey their parents?

The reason is that parents have the duty to care for and educate their children, and children are:
1) Not as capable of and not as versed in logic and clarity in thinking as their parents;
2) Not as knowledgeable;
3) Weak; they have less self control, less resisteance to temptation, and less ability to defer gratification.

Therefore, yes, it is true: parents do know better. On many occassions then parents will have to tell children, for their own good, to do things that they don’t want to do, or to refrain from harmful things that they want to do. So it will be distasteful for the children. If they are not taught and required to obey their parents, on those occassions children won’t do what is good for them or refrain from what is bad for them.

Thus, precisely because parents have to get children to do things they don’t want to do, children must obey parents. If parents need only to get children to do things that are fun and enjoyable, there’s no need to demand obedience.

Besides, the very fact that children obey their parents and do things that are not enjoyable trains the children to be stronger, more self disciplined, more resistant to temptation, and more capable of deferring gratification.

Of course, as children grow older there should be less and less need to order them about, as they should know what’s good for them. By the time they are fifteen they should know right from wrong and should be responsible enough that parents don’t need to give them orders very much, if at all.

Of course, as the Confucian sages have pointed out, there is one circumstance where children should not obey their parents. We’ll talk about that next time.

Feng Xin-ming

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