Proverbs begins with the assumption that children are born in need of correction. They enter the world with a bent toward doing the wrong things. Fathers and mothers are expected to lovingly but firmly train children in the ways of wisdom, responsibility and righteousness. The direction children receive at home sets the course for their entire lives—“Start children off on the way they should go and even when they are old they will not turn from it” (Pr 22:6). This isn’t a blanket promise that godly parents won’t have wayward children, but it does underscore the general principle that good parenting can have a life-long impact.
Parents who fail in their duty to discipline their children bear a heavy responsibility. The writer sees them as a willing party to their child’s death (see Pr 19:18). In ancient Israel the penalty for several crimes was capital punishment, so failing to properly control a child could indirectly lead to his death. Parents who ignore their children or fail to give them the discipline they need consign them to a bleak and dismal future.
There is disagreement today over disciplinary methods. Proverbs appears to favor the stronger forms of discipline—“Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them” (Pr 13:24). Taken to an extreme, of course, such punishment could become abuse, which the Bible never encourages. The other side of the coin, of course, is that children who never learn that their actions carry consequences will eventually come to even more grief.