Thursday, March 6, 2008



Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it. Proverbs 22:6

The most important issue in the life of a teenager is not what is taking place in the world out there. It’s peer pressure. What do my friends think of me? That’s been the accepted norm for quite a long time, and only a moron would underestimate the force of peer pressure today when it comes to how teens dress, act, and think. But has peer pressure been a kind of cop-out, getting more blame than it deserves?

A 1997 study, one of the most comprehensive ones ever done, contended that parents, not other teenagers, are actually the most significant force in the lives of teenagers. The National Longitudinal Study on Adolescent Health involved some 90,000 children. Three factors emerged from this seminal study.

These three factors are universal. They are just as true today as when the study was done. They help combat risky behaviors and attitudes in teens, which include emotional distress, suicidal thoughts and actions, violence, the use of alcohol, tobacco or marijuana, and sexual activity, including pregnancy. And what are those three factors?

Factor #1: Family cohesiveness. This involves a feeling of belonging, of being cared for, the realization that a youngster is wanted, loved, and a valued member of the family. This, of course, means that parents have to be there for their children. The myth of enough quality time compensating for long periods of absence just doesn’t work. Family cohesiveness means a youngster grows up with a sense of belonging, and all the child care workers and all the government programs combined cannot replace the importance of a mom and a dad being there.

Factor #2: Parental expectations. Parental expectations become prophesies of future behavior. When children know that parents believe in them and encourage them to avoid drugs, alcohol, and promiscuity, and parents themselves model their expectations, teens are far more apt to avoid what parents condemn.

This, of course, implies that parents have definite ideas of right and wrong and what is acceptable and unacceptable. Children who are raised with moral and spiritual values are far more apt to incorporate them into their lives than kids who grow up with an “anything goes because nobody is there anyway” attitude.

Factor #3: Parental involvement in the life of a child. The hard fact remains that when a parent is not present in a home after school, at dinner and at bedtime something important is missing, and something else—TV, a cell phone, another teenager—will become a significant influence.

There you have it. Research has done it again. They have certified the obvious. The Bible summarized the report almost 3000 years ago when it said, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it” (Proverbs 22:6). In one sentence, the wise man summarized what was true then, is true today, and will be true in the next generation: Parents are still the most important force in the life of a child. But there is a disclaimer. When parents are not there, they can’t offset the influence of their peers, which accounts for gangs, violence, and thirteen-year-olds having babies.

When parents live out the expectations they have for their children, kids have a benchmark to shoot for. No, it doesn’t mean they will always fly right. Some of us took more than a few bruises until we got things straightened out, but they learn right from wrong, what is moral and what is immoral, what is acceptable and what will not be tolerated, and in so doing we pass the baton of decency and a sense of values to our children, who will someday take our places in the world.
Being the parent of a teenager can be tremendously frustrating. But you only have a few years to pack their suitcase then they’re gone. So, do a good job of it. May our conduct measure up to what we think it is.

Resource reading: Proverbs 22.

*credits to Trine Galvez