–Summer of 2004
As the Twig is Bent
Young people have been a central part of my life for over 25 years. I have worked with them in church groups, Christian schools, youth camps, and now at a Bible College Academy. I’ve counseled with hundreds and preached to thousands of teens from all sorts of backgrounds. I have yet to meet any that had Solomonic wisdom or angelic perfection, but I have met many good kids, the kind of young people that made me say, “Your parents did something right!” I have also met some kids along the way that lacked the basic building blocks necessary to be responsible, respectful, truthful, and productive. In comparing the two groups, and all the individuals that fall in between, I have searched for the single most significant reason that has made the difference. I am convinced that a large part of the answer is parenting.
It is not my intention to put parents on a guilt trip, or to blame them for behavior that is clearly the result of the exercise of free will. But I do want to remind parents of the responsibility that belongs solely to them in the child rearing process. I am extremely weary of hearing parents blame the pastor, teacher, principal, or school for their child’s failures. Parents need to stop looking for excuses and start accepting responsibility for their children’s behavior. Not all children are endowed equally with the same temperament, learning ability, and giftedness. But, the ground is level when it comes to building character. Character and subsequent behavior is a personal responsibility that begins with Mom and Dad in the very early years of a child’s life. Character is molded and developed in the home and cemented by the choices one makes every day. One’s peers do not mold one’s character. They may well influence one’s decisions, but they do not form one’s character; they can only test and reveal what is there. Character is not really an environmental issue. I have watched as quality parenting has raised quality kids in situations that were far from ideal. I have also watched as poor parenting has produced problem kids in environments that offered every advantage.
A Recipe for Disaster
Parents who do not actively involve themselves and assume responsibility for every facet of their child’s development, especially the formation of their child’s character, are asking for problems. Parents who do not teach and insist upon obedience to authority are headed for heartache. Parents who fail to establish boundaries and enforce them when necessary are simply sowing the seeds of lawlessness. Parents who fail to teach their children how to behave ethically and with integrity are laying the groundwork for a teenager that will lie, cheat, and steal. Parents who give their children everything they want and fail to teach them how to work for something and then respect what they have worked for, are raising a child that will be discontent, never appreciate anything, nor respect their property or the property of others. Parents who think discipline is old-fashioned and a spanking is out-dated are likely to raise a monster.
Kids that Succeed
Young people that are a blessing to society and a credit to their parents, tend to come from homes where values are not only taught but modeled. Love is openly communicated and visibly expressed. Integrity is displayed in everyday living. They are taught to respect their parents, their siblings, their authorities, and other people. They are taught to respect others’ opinions, property, and privacy, and in turn are given that same level of respect. They come from homes where rules and boundaries are clearly understood, communicated, and enforced. Kids who do well in life are those who have been disciplined. They have been made to understand the consequences of bad decisions. They are taught to accept responsibility for their actions and to do whatever is necessary to correct them. Kids who succeed come from homes where problems are openly confronted with a willingness to reevaluate and change if necessary.
When parents neglect parenting, they commit a terrible wrong that can cripple a child for the rest of their life. There is a story in American literature that tells of a little girl whose mother had died. Her father would come home from work and just sit down, read his paper, and ignore the child. The little girl would come in and ask him to play with her for a little while because she was lonely. He told her he was tired, to let him be at peace. He told her to go out into the street and play if she wanted to play. So, she played on the streets. The inevitable happened. She took to the streets. The years passed on and she died. Her soul arrived in heaven. Peter saw her and said to Jesus, “Master, here’s a girl who was a bad lot. I suppose we send her straight to hell?” “No,” said Jesus gently, “let her in.” And then His eyes grew stern as He said, “But look for a man who refused to play with his little girl and sent her out to the streets and send him to hell.”