Three Corrections to Make if Your Kids Go Astray


Dr. Tim Elmore explains what to do in situations where kids grow up in a relatively healthy environment and still go astray.

Let’s face it. Even the best teachers have students that don’t engage in class and fail. Even the best parents have children that don’t follow their example. Even the best coaches have young players that make poor decisions and disqualify themselves.

According to nationwide research, when engaged parents see their kids are turning out poorly, the topic of arguments shifts from money to kids; well over 40% of the bickering is about the child. But while environment is a huge factor in how a young person turns out, there are other measurable factors. In order, the factors are:

  1. The personality (genes) of the child
  2. Their parents who raise them
  3. Peers and friends with which they spend time
  4. The primary adults in their life (coaches, teachers, mentors, etc.)
  5. Their school campus culture where they attend
  6. Society as a whole (media, technology, pop icons, role models, etc.)

Psychologists tell us there is such a thing as a “bad match” between parent and child. By this they mean, the personality of mom or dad just doesn’t connect with their son or daughter, and in fact, may bring out the worst. Sometimes, kids can grow up in a relatively healthy environment and still go astray.

So What Should We Do?

So, what do we do if we’re leading a kid well, but they’re not responding? First and foremost, don’t beat yourself up. The primary adults in the student’s life play a large role, but as we just noted, there are other factors. Next, check on the variables that are within your influence. There are always elements that are in your control, out of your control and within your influence. Adults must determine the difference. See if any of these top three factors are in place.

1.    We don’t model the way for our students.

I’ve found when I get frustrated with the students I lead (or even my own kids), sometimes I have failed to show them a better way. I have not modeled a healthy lifestyle or habit they could emulate. Remember, the number one management principle in the world is: people do what people see. I have a right to ask a kid to do something, if I have provided an example first. We teach what we know, but we reproduce what we are. Do it before you demand it.

2.    We enable them to spend too much time with their peers.

Today’s population of adolescents spends far more time with peers than they do with adults, and that number continues to climb. In contrast to past generations, today’s high school student will have three times as many hours with friends on Facebook, via text messages, and in person than with adults who demonstrate what maturity and responsibility look like. Their guidance is not from Socrates, Plato or Augustine, it’s from Josh down the street on Twitter. Invest time in them, just hanging out, talking or doing something they enjoy, together.

3.   We fail to manage the onslaught of negative input from our culture.

Negative influences in our culture are not something you can control, but you can influence them. Healthy parents and teachers monitor the input a kid gets via websites or social media and enables them to interpret it in a healthy way. The goal is never to isolate them, but to insulate them by providing a mature perspective and worldview. Kids need help knowing what to digest and what to not take seriously. Often, their worldview is shaped more by Kanye West or Lady Gaga than it is from Aristotle or Moses. With all due respect—today’s pop icons are seldom prepared to give our kids a healthy worldview or life philosophy. Manage their input through mentoring.

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