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Crime, Punishment, and Grace

In high school English, I was forced to read the book Crime and Punishment.  Let me tell you, this is no short story.  It was a crime and a punishment that I even had to read it!  But I have to admit—once I got into the story, I was hooked.

Crime and Punishment follows the life of a normal guy who commits a heinous crime in a fit of rage.  Guilty and ashamed, he tries to cover up his offense and pretend it didn’t happen.  But try as he may, he can’t shake his conscience.  His guilt overwhelms him, even as a clever police inspector starts to put all the pieces together.  It’s a vivid portrayal of the truth that for every crime there’s a punishment—even if it’s simply a matter of a nagging conscience.

As parents, it’s our responsibility to determine the fitting punishment when our kids break rules and make poor choices.  This can be one of the hardest aspects of parenting can’t it?  It’s a challenge to balance correction and grace.  Maybe you’ve struggled over knowing whether you’re being too strict or too lenient.  As you learn to juggle crime, punishment and grace, here are a few practical guidelines to keep in mind.

Punishment Evolves

Over time, the consequences for breaking family boundaries should evolve and grow along with your child.  Time-outs might be effective for a five year old, but useless for your tween.  A major shift happens when we move from teaching our kids to then training our kids.

When our kids were young, most of the rules centered on behavior.  We expected our children to act according to our wishes:  Don’t run in the street.  Treat grown ups with respect.  Tantrums are not ok.  When our kids enter their teen years, our focus should shift from teaching appropriate behavior to training them to make good choices and be responsible for their own decisions.  Instead of thinking, mom and dad want me to do this … our teens should begin thinking along the lines of, I want to do this because it is good for me.  I don’t want to do that because it’s bad for me.

For that to happen, discipline has to be fine tuned with your teenager in mind.  Start by listing ten areas where you want your son or daughter to improve.  It could be a disrespectful attitude, a dirty mouth or laziness.  Then list ten things that bring your teen joy—like surfing, texting, driving, or spending time with friends.  Couple those lists together and let your child know that if they are disrespectful, the cell phone gets taken away.  Or if they continue to be lazy during the summer, no more surf trips.  This kind of discipline creates rules and boundaries, but also allows your teen freedom and makes them aware of the consequences of their actions.

Rules and Relationships

Growing up, my father was a very strong man who put us under strict procedures of behavior.  I obeyed those rules (most of the time) not because I knew my dad was trying to teach me something or because I thought they were good rules, but because I was afraid of my dad.  I understood the rules, but the relationship was lacking.  I learned about loyalty, honesty and the value of hard work, but I didn’t grasp the importance of love, grace or compassion.

Author Josh McDowell says that rules without relationship causes rebellion.  He’s right on.  If we are laying down the law, but not taking the time to understand or get to know our kids, it will cause nothing but resentment and hostility.  Of course if we emphasize the relationship without the rules, then we create an environment that gives kids the false impression that actions don’t matter and there are no consequences.  Rules and relationships go hand-in-hand. You cannot have one without the other.

Stand Firm

My friend Bill Ziegler is a principal at a middle school in Pennsylvania.  He was recently telling me about a student who had broken the rules of the school, and was to report to the principal.  Bill lovingly explained the consequences to the student and why they were put in place.  It seemed to be going well, until the student’s mother stormed into Bill’s office, shouting and using profanities about how her child shouldn’t have to be punished at all and criticizing the principal for coming down on her son.  After the mom left, the student came back into Bill’s office, and said Mr. Ziegler, sorry for my mom.  I accept the punishment, and I’ll try to do better.

Funny how the parent was the one upset about the consequences, and not the student who was receiving them.  Now it won’t always be that easy as it’s unlikely that your teen will accept the repercussions of discipline so well.  But we need to stand firm on the penalties for breaking the rules.

Parents who want to “rescue” their children from pain or suffering are actually hurting their kids more then they know.  It usually happens for three reasons:

  • Parents want to be friends with their kids
  • Parents can’t handle the constant nagging of their teen during punishment
  • Parents are afraid that if they punish their child, he or she will rebel even more, only worsening the problem.

Mom and Dad, your child doesn’t need another friend.  During these tough adolescent years they need you to be a parent—to correct them when they make a mistake and love them regardless of their behavior.  Don’t be afraid to let your kids face the consequences of their choices and actions.  If they get a speeding ticket, don’t pay for it yourself.  If they’re failing a class, don’t do their homework for them.  Yes, we should extend grace to our teens.  But showing grace doesn’t mean swooping in and saving the day when your kid messes up.  If their driving privileges have been taken away, grace would be offering them a ride.  Giving them the keys before the punishment is met—that’s caving in.  Setting aside time to help with homework is loving.  Writing their book report because you read it and they didn’t, is rescuing.  Teens learn independence and maturity when they face hard times more than when everything is going smooth.  Give them a chance to experience consequences so they can grow.

For every crime there is a punishment.  That’s the way of life.  Handing out discipline isn’t for the faint of heart.  I know it can be hard, draining, and exhausting.  But if we want to follow God’s plan for character growth, we need to let natural consequences shape our kids into mature adults.  Hebrews 12:6 says, Those whom the Lord loves, He disciplines.  No matter what your kids might think in the moment, punishment isn’t a cruel action.  When done in the right way, it can be an expression of love.



Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, located in Hallsville, Texas.  For more information and helpful resources for moms and dads, check out our website  Or read other helpful articles by Mark, at  You can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.  And be sure to tune in for the weekly Parenting Today’s Teens radio broadcast!  Hear Mark on a radio station near you, or download the podcast at

Author: Mark Gregston

Mark Gregston began working with teens more than 40 years ago as a youth minister and Young Life director. He has authored nearly two dozen books, has written hundreds of articles, and is host of the nationally-acclaimed Parenting Today’s Teens podcast and radio broadcast.