“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!