I recently read a couple of articles about the outstanding work Iceland has done to reduce teen drug abuse. They have produced amazing results in response to an entrenched problem seen throughout the western world. Specifically, Iceland has implemented holistic programs contributing to a dramatic reduction in alcohol abuse, marijuana usage, and cigarette smoking. As a result, “Iceland tops the European table for the cleanest-living teens!” The statistics reveal the “clean-living teens.” The percentage of 15- and 16-year olds who have been drunk in the last month plummeted from 42% in 1998 to only 5% in 2016. During the same time period, marijuana use among 15- and 16-year-olds was down from 17% to 7% and cigarette smoking among the same age group fell from 23% to 3% (Read How Iceland Got Teens to Say No to Drugs). Although Iceland’s program incorporated a comprehensive family and community-based, government-supported model, the principle underlying the whole “shebang” includes principles simple enough to implement in your family. The principle: increase factors that protect your child while decreasing factors that put your child at risk. There are many risk factors in our communities today. Risk factors include things that place your child at risk—things like a lack of a secure relationships at home, harsh parenting, high parental conflict, negative peer pressure, and many more. There are also many protective factors. But, what I find amazing, the beautiful part of protective/risk factors, is that a few key protective factors help overcome many risk factors. Let me share four key protective factors that can “cover a multitude of risks.”
- A secure parent-child relationship in which the parent is warm, responsive, and supportive. This is fairly self-explanatory. We protect our children from involvement in risky behaviors like drug use when we develop a warm, supportive relationship. How can we develop a warm, supportive relationship with our children? Keep the lines of communication open. Enjoy time together. Laugh together. Make family meal times a regular occurrence (daily if possible but at least 3-5 times a week). Develop a bedtime routine that includes time to talk. Ask about their friends, school, and activities. Go to watch them in their activities. Remain available to talk about hurts, fears, and successes. Celebrate milestones. All these things will help you develop a warm, supportive relationship with your children.
- Participation in positive community activities. Children need activities. We do not need to force them into activities they do not enjoy; but we can help them find the activities they will enjoy. Based on your warm, supportive relationship (see previous bullet) you will have some idea about what your children enjoy. If not, you will have a relationship that allows you to discuss this with your children and explore. Encourage your children to get involved in some positive supervised activity. This may be sports, music, theatre, recreation, art, dance, church, the list goes on. Help your children find the activity they will enjoy.
- The support of at least one supportive adult outside the home. Sometimes our children are hesitant to approach us with a problem. In those instances another like-minded adult can prove extremely beneficial. As you involve your children in positive community activities, you can help them find that supportive person and allow their relationship with that person to blossom. This supportive person might be a teacher, a coach, an uncle or grandparent, a minister, or even an older sibling. Encourage your children to form relationships with adults you know and trust in the community.
- A stable relationship between parents. Children flourish when their parents get along. If you want to protect your children, nurture your relationship with their other parent. Learn to work together. Do not bad mouth the other parent. Cooperate with one another. Work together in regards to limits and discipline as well as celebrations. Resolve arguments and let your children witness your affection for one another (within reason of course). This will increase your children’s security and decrease the chances they will get involved in “risky behaviors.”
When you provide your children with these four protective factors you have reduced the possibility of their involvement in negative behaviors. And, you will enjoy an amazing relationship with your children.
“It takes a village to raise a child.” I know that sounds overused and somewhat trite, but it really does take a village to raise a child. Don’t get me wrong, children desperately need their family. The healthier our families, the easier it is to raise our children. No doubt family has the primary place in raising children. Still, the connections our children have with those outside the nuclear family have a tremendous impact on them. When parents encourage their children to build healthy connections outside their immediate family, children benefit. Of course we don’t want our children to develop just any old connections; we want to guide them toward healthy connections. We do that by becoming involved in various aspects of the community as a family. Then, as children mature, they can take those involvements as their own. Here are four connections that can benefit our children.
· Connections with extended family can have a positive influence on our children. Older cousins, aunts, and uncles can serve as role models. Grandparents, aunts, and uncles can reinforce various values. Grandparents, in particular, can play a special role in reinforcing values. Many times our children will hear values voiced by the extended family more easily than they hear the same values voiced by us.
· Connections with community groups such as church, school, or sports. Coaches can help reinforce values and give our children another “ear” to help them solve various difficulties. Teachers can also serve to encourage our children and promote maturity. Church involvement has many benefits. In a church community, children can find adults who encourage and support, elderly who listen and give wisdom, and peers who want to live by similar values. Church also provide opportunities to engage in “responsible” behavior such as watching and teaching younger children, mission trips, camp opportunities, and volunteer opportunities. The church can provide all of this as well as teaching Christian values. Each of these connections can help our children grow more confident and mature.
· Connections with more than one circle of friends. This may take some guidance from you, but the benefit is great. Encourage your children to avoid a single clique and become involved with peers from several groups. This may mean becoming involved peers from several different groups at school or becoming involved with peers from church, scouting, school, and community.
· Connections with other parents. Sometimes our children just need an adult other than their parent to talk to. They need an adult who understands children, but does not have the heavy emotional investment in our children that we do. From this “other parent” our children can get an objective, third party opinion. And, if we have laid the groundwork early in our children’s life, this “third party” will support similar values and ideas as we do.
Having these four connections outside of the nuclear family will help teens gain a sense of connection and belonging. Ironically, this sense of connection and belonging will help them grow more independent. It will also help them mature and grow with a desire to abide by the values of their community…which, by the way, is your community too!
What do the Avengers, Jesus, and family have in common? Two things. First, they take action…lots of action. What would the Avengers be without action? They are, after all, “action heroes.” When the Avengers were not involved in action, the enemy seemed to gain strength. They had to take action in order to weaken and destroy the enemy. Jesus was also a man of action. He took the initiative to come to earth and serve. He was actively involved in the creation of the world and He actively engaged all spheres of life during His human journey on earth. Now, He remains actively involved in the world through His Holy Spirit. I recently read Brennan Manning’s A Glimpse of Jesus. In one chapter, Manning states that Jesus “calls us not to fear but to action. Procrastination only prolongs self-hatred.” Jesus was, and is, a Man of great action.
Second thing the Avengers and Jesus have in common? They do not act alone. Instead, they act “in one accord.” The Avengers had to “act in one accord” with one another in order to have success. They could not just look out for their own personal interests and neglect everyone else. That led to arguing, one-upmanship, suspicions, group weakness, and vulnerability. They needed one another; they needed to work together in order to accomplish the goal set before them. Jesus did not act alone either. He acted in accordance with His Father. He did what His Father was doing, said was His Father was saying, and went where His Father directed. Jesus also picked 12 men to work with Him during His earthly ministry. These 12 men helped feed the five thousand, prepare the upper room, and even proclaim the kingdom of God. Jesus still wants His people to “act in one accord” with Him and one another. We are told to “not look out for our own personal interests but also for the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4). We are to encourage one another, lift one another up, comfort one another and admonish one another. We are to act together.
The Avengers and Jesus are both people of action. They had to work together to find success. What does that have to do with the family? Do I need to say it? I can’t hold back…I have to say it. Creating an intentional family demands that we take action and that we “act in one accord.” If we want our families to grow healthier and more intimate, we need to take action. Start doing the work to create a healthier family today. Take action. Do not procrastinate…that could lead to disaster, feelings of insecurity, and even self-hatred. Do not get sidetracked and distracted from action by dwelling on disagreements and petty jealousies…that will surely lead to disaster. Instead, start doing the little things that bring health to a family. Become a person of action in your family today. Initiate the action of encouraging family members, saying “thank-you” to family members, and engaging in courteous behaviors like holding a door open or getting a family member a drink.
And, while you are taking action, remember that healthy families act together. They do not just look out for their own personal interests–that leads to arguments, one-upmanship, suspicions, family weakness, and vulnerability. Instead, look out for the interests of other family members. Give up that last cookie and let another family member have it. Give up fighting to be “first in the shower” and let your brother go first. Volunteer to clear the table or wash the dishes or help with the laundry or…well, you know. The list of actions you can take to strengthen your family goes on. Reach out in love to actively support, encourage, comfort, and forgive one another. The actions of love done in “one accord” will take your family to new heights of intimacy and joy. Start today!
Parents, your mission should you choose to accept it, is to prepare the way for your children as they mature. This mission will involve the following steps.
· Explore the community in which you choose to raise your children. Identify your allies and locate the safe areas in your neighborhood. Your allies can support the instruction you provide your children and offer discipline that will promote your children’s maturing character. The safe spots in your neighborhood can nurture your child and further promote the values you want to become central to your child’s life. Safe spots and allies in your community may include clubs, sporting activities, coaches, church groups, youth leaders, etc. Visit these areas and befriend these allies ahead of your children. “Scope them out.” Make sure they truly are what they appear to be—no hidden agendas or hurtful ideas hidden under a beautiful facade.
· Identify those areas in your community that might poison your child. These areas appear safe enough to the innocent eyes of children…they may even appear inviting, appealing, or enticing. However, the experienced adult recognizes these attractive activities and influences as poisonous flowers that threaten our children’s mental, emotional, and physical health. Teach your children to look beyond the attractive flower to identify the deadly lies and influences they hide—the hidden agendas, the hurtful designs, the life-threatening lies. Teach them the truth to counteract the poison offered. Provide them with the unconditional love and solid acceptance at home that will empower them to turn away from these enticing poisons in the community.
· Identify the potential players in the neighborhood. Every neighborhood has those people who prey on the innocent and naïve. Teach your children how to protect themselves from these players. Teach them to travel with their allies, finding safety in numbers. Teach them to think before they act and to discern consequences before follow. Listen closely to your children. Lovingly problem-solve with them when they face difficult circumstances and people.
· Develop additional safety zones in your community and in your children’s life. Nurture relationships with adults who can provide positive influences. Take time to know your children’s friends and promote their growth in mature character. Support the efforts of other adults, parents, and groups in your community that want to raise a strong moral generation of young people.
· One more task in this mission…pray for your children. You cannot follow your children into every potentially dangerous situation or guide them through every experience they encounter in life. You would not even want to. They need time to learn on their own…to get lost and find their way out, to fail and recover, to slip and get back up. They need the opportunities to learn when to ask for help and the humbly experience of doing so. In the midst of all this, you can pray for your children. Ask God to protect them, guide them, nudge them when they stray, and quickly lift them up when they fall. Make them the subject of your prayers multiple times a day.
Parents, this is your mission should you choose to accept it. Your effort in this mission will impact the development of your child and ultimately influence your level of joy as a parent. This message will not self-destruct in 10 seconds, but continue on throughout the life of your children. Good luck, Parent…and God bless.
I read an interesting fact about sheep recently. (You might wonder why I read anything about sheep…I really don’t know, it just happened.) At first, I did not believe what I read. Then, I heard the same fact again, this time on TV (Dirty Jobs). Intrigued, I began to investigate and discovered the fact was true. What was the fact? When a sheep gets turned onto its back, it may have difficulty turning upright and standing. Shepherds call this sheep “cast.” The “cast down” sheep will lie on its back, struggling to turn over. If the shepherd does not help the sheep turn over and stand upright, internal gases build up and the sheep can die.
That got me thinking…our children can “get knocked down” or “knocked off their feet,” discouraged and “cast down” for several reasons. Failure can lead to a “cast down” child who is discouraged and afraid of trying again, of “standing on my own two feet.” Self-indulgent behavior can lead to selfish, lopsided living that will eventually “knock their feet out from under them” and “cast them down.” Disobedience brings consequences that can leave a person “flat on their back,” fearful of losing support and love. Ridicule and teasing can knock a child down, leaving them discouraged and doubtful about themselves. Even just feeling misunderstood can bring us down and result in our feeling “cast down,” hopeless and helpless. A child who feels discouraged and “cast down” becomes vulnerable to the world. Other children prey on the discouraged and “cast down” child. Drugs and sexual intimacy become more alluring to the discouraged, “cast down” child. In fact, if not rescued quickly, the “cast down” child becomes at risk for all sorts of dangerous behaviors. What is a parent to do? What lesson can a parent learn from the “cast down” sheep? How can a parent successfully shepherd a “cast down” child? Here are 5 lessons of a “cast down” sheep.
1. Be vigilant. Remain attentive of your children, “keep an eye” on them. Vigilant parents remain aware of their children’s friends, interests, and even moods. They are observant of any changes, especially abrupt changes, in friendships, interests, and moods. As parents remain attentive and aware of their children and their children’s lives, they can recognize when their children become “cast down.” They can then respond quickly and appropriately to help their children get “back on their feet” as soon as possible.
2. Provide gentle, loving correction. Parents help their children “stay on their feet” by replacing harsh, crushing punishment with loving discipline and correction. Remember, the purpose of discipline is to teach appropriate behavior, not crush inappropriate behavior. Make sure the discipline teaches your children and strengthens their moral muscles, enabling them to “stand on their own two legs” amidst any pressures that arise. Rather than coercing them to behave a certain way, assure that the consequences of misbehavior are more uncomfortable than the consequences of positive behavior. Teach them the benefit of rules.
3. Become an encourager not a faultfinder, an advocate not a critic. Look for opportunities to praise your children for their effort and their progress. Encourage their appropriate behavior. Even when you have to offer criticisms, preface the criticism with some acknowledgement of positive behaviors. Keep criticism constructive, not destructive. Lift your children up with your encouragement rather than “casting them down” with your discouragement.
4. Provide opportunities for your children to serve in the home and outside the home. Your children are a member of your family’s household and, as such, they have the responsibility to help maintain your family’s household. Do not rob them of that responsibility and allow them to become self-indulgent. Instead, maintain an expectation that everyone contributes to the household and then provide opportunities to do so. Give your child responsibility to complete meaningful chores in the home. Create opportunities for you and your child to work together on projects around the house or in the community. Encourage their participation in these service projects. Celebrate their involvement and the completion of each project.
5. Be your child’s ally. Support them in pursuing interests. Defend them in difficult circumstances. When they experience failure, lift them up. When they disobey and suffer consequences, help them get back on their feet. Assist them in learning from those mistakes and in learning how to make better decisions in the future. Express faith in their ability to learn and grow. Brace them up when they face challenges and reinforce their positive efforts.
Our children, like sheep, can become “cast down” by a variety of circumstances. You, their parent, have the best opportunity to return them to the appropriate path of maturity. Be vigilant, provide loving discipline, encourage, create opportunities to serve others, and become your child’s ally. Happy Shepherding.