Self-control: control or restraint of oneself or one’s actions, feelings, etc. —

Every parent knows the signs: the scrunched-up face turning red; the balled fists; the tense body; and the mouth forming the perfect scream of frustration. A toddler in the throes of a temper tantrum is the classic example of lack of self control.

But more and more often these days, lack of self control is evident in elementary school children, pre-teens, teenagers and even some adults. “Look at American society today, and you wonder where’s the self control?” asks Kirk Martin, a behavioral therapist and founder of “We want the big house, so we’re under water [owing more than the house is worth]. We want more toys, more things, so we’re drowning in debt. … The rise of smartphones and videogames means we have instant access to information, entertainment and stimulation 24/7.”

The expectation of instant gratification has pushed the virtue of self-control to the back burner. “The benefits of self-discipline are timeless in nature,” says Molly Aden, a homeschooling mother of six in Fairfax, Va. “What has fallen out of favor is the consistent effort necessary to obtain self-discipline.”

The Virtue of Self-Discipline

In our hurried lives, we can easily overlook the importance of self-mastery. Even Christians sometimes forget our calling to be self-controlled. The Bible exhorts us to practice self-control: “But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet” (1 Thessalonians 5:8 NIV).

“Christian parents in particular ought to be very concerned about their own disciplines and that of their children. If we as Christian parents have as one of our objectives a character which reflects Christ’s, then self-control will naturally grow in ourselves and, Lord willing, in our children,” says Aden.

While it might seem in looking at the surface of our culture that self-control is no longer widely practiced, there are signs that the pendulum is slowing swinging back in favor of self-mastery. Today, nonbelievers are touting the benefits of self-control. In the New York Times article “Building Self-Control, the American Way” (published Feb. 17, 2012), authors Sandra Aamodt and Sam Wang write that “in any culture, the development of self-control is crucial. … It predicts success in education, career and marriage. Indeed, childhood self-control is twice as important as intelligence in predicting academic achievement.”

More studies are supporting the biblical teaching that self-control is beneficial. One recent study documents a correlation between self-control and good health. The study, published in the August 2012 Journal of Pediatrics, found that “the ability to delay gratification as a child may lower a person’s chances of being overweight later in life,” according to a report of the study. “Academics and social interactions just went better for kids who were more able to delay gratification,” said Tanya Schlam, the lead researcher of the study.

With evidence mounting that self control is necessary for our children’s well-being, parents should help children develop self-discipline. 

The Ways of Self-control

It can be difficult to teach self-mastery to our children if we don’t embody it ourselves. “Self-control begins in the home. The only person you can control in life is yourself,” says Martin. “Yet how many of us as adults [exhibit self-control]? … If the parents cannot control themselves, how can they expect their kids to control themselves?”