When asked about the greatest challenge school’s face today, a superintendent of a large school district said the following:
Parents are absent in the most important aspect of their children’s lives. There is a void we see in children’s lives that only they can teach. That void is character and ethics. Now they are asking us to teach it in our schools and to make it a regular part of our curriculum. It seems they expect administrators and teachers to teach their children ethics and basic human values. But an education system can never replace the importance of parents modeling this behavior at home. The parents who are lobbying for more of this curriculum in our schools are the same parents who take their children to a restaurant and tell them to lie about their age so they can get a cheaper meal. The same parents who attempt to rescue their child when they get in trouble at school or in extra-curricular activities. The same parents who routinely lie to administrators and teachers in order to protect their children from bad grades, tardiness, or an unexcused absence. Anything we could possibly teach children at school about ethics and character would be like pouring water into a bucket with a huge hole in the bottom because parents have the most influence in their children’s lives and, for the most part, they are not living ethical lives that display good character.
Research clearly shows that parents are the most powerful role model in their children’s lives. The bible clearly supports these findings. This is the basic principles taught in Deuteronomy chapter 6. Here God tells His followers how to live and what it means to be His follower. In the Hebrew culture Deuteronomy 6:4 (also applied to 6:4-9) is known as the “Shema.” It is extremely important in the Jewish culture. God tells His followers two important principles in these verses that have everything to do with parents as the primary teacher of their children.
1. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. God is basically telling His followers that we are to love Him through obedience with all of our lives.Our love is expressed to God through obedience. We obey through knowing His word and living it out in our homes and culture.
2. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. In others words, we are to live out God’s commands in our lives in front of our children. At home, and in our daily lives. The word diligence is a strong word that means earnestly and consistently. It comes from the same word that means, “To Sharpen.” We are to consistently teach and be an example of God’s precepts for our children.
This has the most impact in their young lives because it is the way God designed families and parenting. I love the common Hebrew saying. “A child speaks in the marketplace the way he heard his parents speaking at home.”
Psychologists remind us that the model parents present influence our children very early in their lives.
A report from the Journal of the American Medical Association:
Neonates are born with an instinctive capacity and desire to imitate adult behavior. That infants can, and do, imitate an array of adult facial expressions has been demonstrated in neonates as young as a few hours old, i.e., before they are even old enough to know cognitively that they themselves have facial features that correspond with those they are observing. It is a most useful instinct, for the developing child must learn and master a vast repertoire of behavior in short order.
The JAMA report also warns about the downside of pediatric modeling: Whereas infants have an instinctive desire to imitate observed human behavior, they do not possess an instinct for gauging a priori whether a behavior ought to be imitated. They will imitate almost anything, including behaviors that most adults would regard as destructive and antisocial.
That’s enough evidence to conclude that children grow and learn primarily from their parents or guardians who are their greatest influence.
We could also talk about recent studies that relate things such as smoking, drug/alcohol use, poor dieting habits, and even seatbelt use to parental influence. It seems the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Parental modeling isn’t the only determining factor in adolescent behavior and certainly we can cherry pick instances of teenagers who rise above negative parental influence, but the research is clear that parents have the greatest influence in their lives. This is both good and terrifying. Good because the research shows that parents can influence their teenagers. Terrifying because this puts more focus on parental coaching.
We must understand that adolescents learn the most from observed behavior. They learn from what they see more than what they hear. It’s like they have this built-in hypocrisy detector. They are less likely to do what you say if they don’t see it modeled in your life.
I recently read a great story of parental influence that demonstrates this fact.
A son goes to the store with his Mother. When she was checking out, the clerk failed to properly credit her for a promotional item. She tried in vain to correct the problem with the checkout clerk and was eventually directed to the store manager. The manager seemed to busy to discuss her complaint and was also uncooperative. After failing to reach an agreement on the oversight by the checkout clerk, the manager finally relented and reached into a cash drawer and handed her the appropriate compensation.
On their way home, the mother realized that the manager gave her more money than the promotional item was worth. She was already running late for an appointment and could not return to the market. That night the woman could not sleep. She kept thinking about the money in her wallet that did not belong to her. The next morning she rushed her children to get ready for school so she could stop by the store and refund the money. There in front of her children, she explained to the manager the mistake he made the previous day. The manager seemed uninterested in her story but took the money and returned it to the cash register drawer.
Months later, the woman’s son took a very difficult test at school. Most of his classmates bombed the test but her son received a grade of A+. As his teacher passed out the graded test, she commended him in front of the entire class. Then, because so many of her students did poorly on the test, the teacher decided to review the test with the class and correct the answers. During the review, the son realized he actually made a mistake on the exam but the teacher missed the error. Throughout the review the son struggled with his desire for the A+. Ultimately his guilty conscience prevailed. After class he approached his teacher and pointed out her grading error.
Later that night the son told his mother about the test and the grading error. She praised him for his honesty and his willingness to do the right thing. He told her that he really wanted to just keep the A+ but couldn’t do it. He said he just kept thinking about his mom giving the money back to the store manager. He said when he thought of what his mom did he knew what he had to do. The teacher was so impressed with his honesty, she rewarded him by giving him the A+ despite the mistake.
Most parents realize that values and perspectives must be planted by personal example. This isn’t a new concept. The problem for most adolescents is their parents are holding them to a standard they have not mastered and do not model in their lifestyle. This reminds me of my mother’s favorite saying. “Do as I say, not as I do.” I think this is a parent saying we use when we really don’t know what to say.
The hypocrisy has disastrous results. Teenagers begin to view their parents and other influential people in their lives as insincere. It does great damage to the parent-child relationship and eventually can cause teenagers to reject the moral authority of the adults in their lives. This is why so many teenagers begin to make their own decisions about right and wrong. A disaster waiting to happen.
Let’s be honest. Serving as a model for our children is hard work. Children see us at all hours of the day under all circumstances. If we have a temper they see it. If we tell a “Little white lie” they hear it. If we constantly complain and give off a general negative tone, they hear it. If we gossip, they hear our gossip. This is why our personal relationship with Christ must be our first priority. Our call as followers of Christ is to grow into the model he displayed during his life on planet earth and the words from God in our bibles. This is critical in our personal walk and those we influence. It’s out of this obedience that we have the power to live the life we so desire for our children. And when we blow it, and we will, we must respond appropriately to God’s expressed desire and use our mistakes as teachable moments for our children. It’s called honesty.
We have a great example of how important influence was in ancient Hebrew tradition.
It comes from a decision made by Abraham. Abraham was ready to find a suitable wife for his son Isaac. So he sends his servant off to find this wife. Abraham made his servant swear that he wouldn’t bring home a woman from the local Canaanites because they were known for being murderers and thieves. Abraham told his servant to choose a woman from Abraham’s homeland. But these women were known for being idol worshippers. This seemed strange to his servant. It seems strange to me.
Why would Abraham prefer an idol-worshipper over a murderer or thief? It had everything to do with their parents and how the women were raised. What’s the point? As parents we try our best to pass our traits and beliefs down to our children. But usually only our character traits pass instantly and without notification to our children. Our belief’s hover in spiritual no-man’s-land until our children choose to accept them or reject them.
Abraham understood that murder and theft resulted from corrupt character. He reasoned that a woman from a family with corrupt traits would necessarily pass those traits on to her children. Something he didn’t want for Isaac. Idol worship, in contrast, results from mistaken beliefs. Unlike the inheritance of character traits, parental beliefs do not necessarily penetrate too deeply and their superficial influence could be corrected quickly. Amazing. He essentially chooses a wife for Isaac based on her parental influence.
If we’re being honest, what are we teaching our children through our lives? We should never be surprised if we witness our children exhibiting the same character traits, and values we display in and through our lives. If you want to have the greatest impact on your children, be who you desire for them to be.
- 5 Decisions Teenagers Make That Damage Their Future (followthenarrowroad.com)
- Don’t Ignore the “D” Word in Your Home. (followthenarrowroad.com)
- 7 Questions to Ask Your Teenager This Week (followthenarrowroad.com)