Build Early Trust with Your Kids

Author:
Dr. James Dobson

I have often described a culture that is bearing down on families everywhere and threatening the welfare of their children. It has placed parents in a very difficult position. They must either close their eyes and ignore the harmful influences that are swirling around their kids, or they must figure out how to defend them. Let me put forward some ideas for those of you who intend to dig in and fight.

The focal point of this discussion sounds so obvious that it may appear to offer nothing new. I believe, however, that there is value in what I am about to write. The essence of my message is that you as parents must work harder than ever at building satisfying and affirming relationships with your kids. You must give them a desire to stay within the confines of the family and conform to its system of beliefs. If you fail in this task, you could lose the battle of wills later on. The law today favors rebellious teens. They are likely to prevail in any nose-to-nose confrontation between generations, perhaps even leading to legal emancipation at an early age. Here's what you can do to prevent it.

When I was a kid, parents didn't have to depend as much on communication and closeness to keep their children in line. They could control and protect them, more or less, by the imposition of rules and the isolation of their circumstances. Farmer John could take sassy little Johnny out to the back forty acres and get his mind straight. Just the threat of that happening was enough to keep most teens from going off the deep end.

My folks understood that system. They had a million rules. There were regulations and prohibitions for almost every imaginable situation. Coming from a minister's home in a very conservative church, I was not allowed to go to the movies (which were remarkably tame), or to dances, or even to use mild slang. I remember being reprimanded once for saying, "Hot Dog!" when I got excited about something. I'm still not sure what danger those words conveyed to my dad, but he warned me not to say them again. Darn was seen as a euphemism for damn, geez meant Jesus, dad-gummit (an old southern expression) was an obvious representation of God's name. I dared not utter anything that even vaguely resembled profanity, even if it were nonsensical. My cousin, who lived under the same general regime, invented a slang word called gerrit that he could use without being accused of saying something bad. "I'm sick of that gerrit school," he might say. The invention didn't work. Gerrit got banned too.

In those days, parental authority typically stood like a great shield against the evils in what was called "the world." Anything perceived as unwholesome or immoral was kept outside the white picket fence simply by willing it to stay put. Fortunately, the surrounding community was helpful to parents. It was organized to keep kids on the straight and narrow. Censorship kept the movies from going too far, schools maintained strict discipline, infractions were reported to the parents, truant officers prevented students from playing hooky, chaperones usually preserved virginity, alcohol was not sold to minors, and illicit drugs were unheard-of.

Even adults outside the family saw it as their civic responsibility to help protect children from anything that could harm them, whether physically, emotionally, or spiritually. Most of these townsfolk were probably acquainted with the children's parents, so it was easier for them to intervene. This support system didn't always do the job, of course, but it was generally effective.

We see, however, this commitment to the welfare of children has all but disappeared. Rather than assisting parents in their child-rearing responsibilities, the culture actually conspires against them. Alas, the white picket fence is gone. Harmful images and ideas come sliding under the front door or, as we discussed earlier, they slither directly into the bedrooms through electronic media. As the world has become more sexualized and more violent, there are just too many opportunities for kids to get in trouble. Further, innumerable "voices" are out there enticing them to do what is wrong.

Parental authority is also undermined at every turn. For example, when parents decide today not to allow their boys to see a bad movie, their order is likely to be countermanded. The kids might watch the flick at the home of friends or on video when parents are at work. And these days, grown-ups seem to work longer and longer hours. That introduces one of the greatest points of danger. It is almost impossible for moms and dads to screen out harmful aspects of the culture when they are rarely at home in the afternoon. An unsupervised kid can get into more mischief in a single day than his parents can straighten out in a year.

Considering how the world has changed, it is doubly important to build relationships with boys from their earliest childhood. You can no longer rely on rules to get them past the predators in the wider world. It still makes sense to prohibit harmful or immoral behavior, but those prohibitions must be supplemented by an emotional closeness that makes children want to do what is right. They must know that you love them unconditionally and that everything you require of them is for their own good. It is also helpful to explain why you want them to behave in certain ways. "Laying down the law" without this emotional linkage is likely to fail.

Author and speaker Josh McDowell expressed this principle in a single sentence. He said, "Rules without relationship lead to rebellion." He is absolutely right. With all the temptations buzzing around our kids, simply saying no a thousand times creates a spirit of defiance. We have to build bridges to them from the ground up. The construction should begin early and include having fun as a family, laughing and joking, playing board games, throwing or kicking a ball, shooting baskets, playing Ping-Pong, running with the dog, talking at bedtime, and doing a thousand other things that tend to cement the generations together. The tricky part is to establish those friendships while maintaining parental authority and respect. It can be done. It must be done.

From Dr. Dobson's book Bringing Up Boys.

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