Parents Don’t Like Son’s Long Hair

Should we allow our son to have long hair? There's constant conflict in our household over this issue. My husband and I constantly have to tell him to go and get his hair cut. If we didn't, I think he'd let it grow down over his shoulders. He usually complies, but not without a lot of resistance and complaint. We've told him over and over again that the Bible specifically forbids men to wear long hair (1 Corinthians 11:14), but he doesn't seem overly impressed with that argument. What do you think we should do?

It’s important to pick your battles wisely. Remember Ephesians 6:4: “Do not exasperate your children.”

Don’t misunderstand. Parents can expect a certain measure of conflict during the teen years, and you shouldn’t back down when a disagreement involves a difference of opinion about fundamental beliefs and values . At the same time, you have to be careful not to exert too much control in areas that are less important. If you don’t exercise some discernment, you may end up alienating your child unnecessarily. The important thing is to get through these turbulent years with as little damage as possible to the parent-child relationship and your own sanity.

Your basic rule of thumb should be, “Avoid major conflicts with your teenager if at all possible.” Some things just aren’t worth it. In general, we don’t think it’s wise to start a war over issues like hair style or length. Not unless it’s a matter of extremes – for instance, something bizarre like giant green spikes. In that case, a heart-to-heart talk is needed. Extreme styles are a way of saying to the world, “I don’t care what anybody thinks of me!” If this is your son’s attitude, you need to find out why.

Meanwhile, we’d advise you to stay away from the biblical argument. That approach can easily backfire on you. You don’t want to turn your son off to the Christian faith over something as trivial as hair length. Yes, Paul does say that “nature itself teaches us that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him” (1 Corinthians 11:14). But you have to remember that context is critical to the interpretation of this text. In an important sense, it really isn’t fair to use this statement against a boy who’s reluctant to visit the barber.

The passage in which the verse in question occurs – 1 Corinthians 11:3-16 – is difficult to exegete. That’s because it was written to a very specific audience within a very specific cultural setting. In New Testament times, it was common practice for women to cover their heads in public and during worship. A woman’s head-covering was understood as an expression of submission to her husband. If a woman went out with her head uncovered, it was considered a sign of loose morals or public disgrace. The text makes it clear that long hair, in that society, was looked upon as a type of “covering.” A man, according to the apostle, needs no such “covering,” since “he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man” (verse 7).

What’s the upshot? Simply this. According to Paul, what “nature teaches us” is that men and women are different and have different roles. In other words, the apostle is underscoring the importance of the distinction between male and female. Hair length is a secondary issue. The means of acknowledging or signifying this crucial distinction can differ from culture to culture. But the principle remains the same.

If you’d like to discuss these suggestions at greater length, call our staff of pastoral counselors. They’d love to speak with you over the phone.


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