Circle the Wagons
The peer group
The advertising industry
Church youth leaders
Uncles and aunts
They play a huge role in the lives of your kids, especially when they become teenagers. Adolescents are at that special time of life when they look at the world through eyes that are newly opened. On the brink of adulthood, they begin making decisions about what kind of person they want to be, what they want to believe, who they want to pattern their lives after. And they are likely to make those decisions based on the important influences in their lives—or those which are most successful at attracting their attention.
Scary, isn’t it? Especially when so many of those influences appear to be dangerous, destructive, or downright evil.
Unfortunately, it’s not easy to control or to limit the influences on your kids when they become teens. When they were little, you probably kept pretty close tabs on where they were, who they were with, what they were doing. But now, it’s not so easy to monitor their whereabouts or to prevent them from being with people you don’t know. Part of being a teenager is having a private life that parents don’t know everything about. You can be assured that your kids have one.
Keeping things in perspective
While you can count on there being many influences, both good and bad, vying for the attention of your kids—remember this: You, mom or dad, remain the most important influence in your son or daughter’s life all the way through his or her teen years.
You will hear plenty of expert opinions to the contrary. There is a widely-circulated, oft-believed myth that parents no longer influence their teen-aged children. This myth has led many parents to distance themselves from their kids, to stop being involved, to surrender their kids to the outside influences in their lives. This, of course, is a serious parenting mistake.
In study after study, researchers confirm that parents are impossible to unseat as the primary influencers of their adolescent children. Parents invariably come out on top, followed by grandparents, teachers, coaches, religious leaders and same-age peers. The media more often than not comes in dead last. No matter how glamorous they may be, rock stars can’t hold a candle to the influence of mom and dad.
Certainly when kids reach adolescence, the influence of celebrities, teachers, friends and the media increases relative to parents as they compete more vigorously for attention and allegiance. But parental influence still reigns supreme. Only when parents abdicate their rightful position of influence do lesser influences fill the void that is left and become decisive in the lives of kids. This is what I call “influence by default.”
Circling the wagons
Excluding parents, the most important influencers of teenagers are adults outside the home—teachers, coaches, youth workers, parents of friends, members of their extended family. That’s why I believe you should do all you can to surround your kids with as many quality adults as you can. In other words, circle the wagons.
I remember watching those old westerns featuring caravans of rickety covered wagons heading across the prairie. They would inevitably come under attack and hastily form a tight circle as a defensive move. The circle provided protection for the women and children and gave the brave pioneers at least a fighting chance to hold off the enemy.
All fiction, no doubt. But the concept works to illustrate my point. The best protection you can give your kids against negative worldly influences is to circle the wagons—surround your kids with adults who care about your kids and will serve as role models for them.
I don’t know about you, but when I was growing up, I stayed out of serious trouble simply because I had too many people to disappoint. I had grandparents, uncles and aunts, family friends, teachers, coaches, youth group leaders, mentors of all kinds who really cared about me and I knew it. Not only did I not want to disappoint them, I wanted to make them proud of me.
It’s sad that so many kids today have no one like that in their lives. New research indicates that only one in five teenagers have an adult outside the home they have connected with in any meaningful way. Sometimes not even their parents care what they do or what they become. It’s no wonder they are so vulnerable to outside negative influences. They have no protection against them. There are no significant adults in their lives who care what they do—one way or the other.
When our daughter Amber was a youngster, I remember overhearing a conversation she had with a friend. Her friend was bragging about her church—how large it was, how impressive the music was and how many activities it provided for her family. We, on the other hand, attended a very small church at the time with none of those things. I wondered what Amber would say. Was she embarrassed by our small church? After listening to her friend, Amber thought about it and replied quite matter-of-factly, “Well … the people in my church love me.”
I’m so glad that my kids have had people in their lives who loved them while they were growing up. They never had the benefit of living in the same town with their grandparents and extended family as I did (although they see them frequently), but our church family became for them a support system of love and encouragement. They showed up at our kids’ ball games, graduations and birthday parties. They prayed for them when they were sick and they helped discipline them when they did wrong.
The old saying “It takes a village to raise a child” has a lot of truth to it. Parents are important, but kids also need to connect with people outside the home in order to validate and strengthen what they get inside it.
Believe me, the absence of positive influences is a far greater danger to our children today than the presence of negative ones. When we talk about “circling the wagons,” we aren’t suggesting that we shield our kids from bad people so much as we expose them to as many good people as we can. Like they say, the best defense is always a good offense.
Wayne Rice is a life-long youth worker, Christ-follower and bluegrass music nut who spends most of his time these days writing, speaking, consulting, playing his banjo and trying to be a good husband, father and grandpa. Wayne co-founded an organization called Youth Specialties, as well as a parenting organization called Understanding Your Teenager, which is now part of HomeWord.com. Wayne has written over 30 books, including the parenting book, Generation to Generation. You can follow Wayne on his blog at WayneRice.com.