Reading Time: 4 minutes

In yet another example of Christian conservatives telling on themselves, Matt Kennedy, rector of Church of the Good Shepherd (an Anglican church) in New York and father of six, recently revealed his best child-rearing advice in a Twitter thread.

Kennedy measures his success by the fact that “none of them are in jail.” If that’s a joke, so be it, but his advice is a perfect example of how parents can traumatize their children without realizing it.

In summary, he demands obedience, forces them to show respect to their mother at all times, forbids lying, and requires them to say they love their meals. Failure to do any of these things will result in some kind of physical abuse (corporal punishment), followed by a hug.

The first problem to note here is that even he admits none of this is foolproof: “Your child can still end up taking the wrong path.” That alone should nullify everything he said earlier. But keep in mind that parents who don’t have these rules raise perfectly fine kids too.

What’s most concerning about this list is the underlying message that children must be deferential to their parents at all times. No arguing. No complaining. It may sound nice in theory, but the reality is that when you tell your kids to obey their parents or else, love whatever they have or else, and never lie or else, many of those kids will grow up to be very skillful liars who want no real relationship with their parents. They learned from an early age that faking it for the sake of appearances (or to avoid a beating) was better than having honest conversations with their parents.

Matt Kennedy makes it clear his kids can’t come to him if something is wrong. If their parents cross a line or if dinner is inedible—or, more seriously, if a pastor takes advantage of them or they begin to doubt their faith—it’s better to shut up than speak up. The punishment for independent thought isn’t worth it.

They’ll eventually find other outlets to vent and other people to be around where they don’t have to censor themselves at every turn. (Hopefully.)

There’s a valid argument to be made that parents need to be seen as authority figures more than friends, at least when their children are learning right from wrong, but to treat them like robots instead of human beings is just setting those kids up for failure.

Everything in the thread from this father is “advice” we’ve heard from the likes of Christian child abuse advocates like James Dobson or Michael and Debi Pearl. There’s no shortage of people who have shared stories about how their childhoods were ruined because their parents treated those fundamentalist ideas as Gospel.

Plenty of people who responded to Kennedy online shared their own stories of trauma after being raised in families with similar rules in place:

Some conservative Christians have defended Kennedy’s rules, saying they were raised in a similar way. But whenever someone says, “I was spanked as a child and I turned out just fine,” my immediate reaction is that they didn’t turn out just fine. They grew up to become the sort of people who think hitting kids is okay.

If you believe demanding obedience, instead of earning it, is the best way to raise kids, don’t be surprised when those kids choose not to have a close relationship with you when they grow older. They may go through the motions, but as we’ve seen for decades now, they say very different things behind closed doors and when they’re in the presence of people who show respect to them.

Kennedy has responded to the criticism by brushing it off and calling it the work of “Woke Twitter.” Much as he does with his kids, he’s not interested in what anyone else has to say. That’s his problem in a nutshell. He believes his Rules for Parenting are God-ordained and therefore immune from criticism.

For the sake of children everywhere, let’s hope other Christian parents ignore the advice from this father entirely.

Avatar photo

Hemant Mehta is the founder of FriendlyAtheist.com, a YouTube creator, podcast co-host, and author of multiple books about atheism. He can be reached at @HemantMehta.