I was on the phone doing some research of my book, talking with a well-known psychologist about raising children. "What do you believe," I asked him, "is the most effective tool we have to teach appropriate behavior?"
"What truly impacts behavior," he replied, "is this whole issue of modeling. We learn what people teach us, and a lot of that is circumstantial teaching. Give parents these three rules: Example example, example."
When I was teaching, working with children whose disruptive and destructive behaviors got in the way of learning, I added up all the hours the kids were in school - if they had perfect attendance. It turns out that, at seven hours a day for two semesters, I had a good shot at them for around 14% of the year! If I couldn't get the parents on board (for the other 86%!) then there was very little I could do that would make much of a difference.
The psychologist commented on the influence that we have, as parents. "The parent doesn't have to do it all. But they can make sure the environment they are immersing the kid in reinforces the same values they have: Christian values, honestly, integrity, fairness, generosity.... Also, if you've got your kids hanging around other kids, kids like you want your kids to be, then I think that you are in much better shape."
In other words, it is our responsibility to manage the environment, and to make sure our children are exposed to the right role models. We, the parents, are the most important part of that equation.
Simply put, there is no greater influence we have on our children than the way we are, the way we act, and the kind of places we allow them to spend their time. Jesus was unequivocal on this issue: "But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea." (Matthew 18:6)
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