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teen cellphoneTrain a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it. (Prov. 22:6)

Ask any teen, "What is the biggest influence in your life?"

You might expect them to answer “friends” or “social media”. And the parents of those teens might tell you the same thing. It is true, in cultures throughout the world, that cell phones and internet connectivity are radically changing the fabric of a teen’s life.

But, results from one of the most comprehensive studies of teenagers ever done says otherwise. Parent-family connectedness and parental expectations were the greatest factor in protecting against every behavior that posed health risks, as well as school achievement.

It’s still true, parents, not other teenagers, are actually the most significant force in the lives of teens. The National Longitudinal Study on Adolescent Health involved some 90,000 children, beginning in 1994, with the latest data reported in 2016. Three factors emerged from this seminal study.

These three factors are universal. They are just as true today as when the study was done. They help combat emotional distress, suicidal thoughts and actions, violence, the use of alcohol, tobacco or marijuana, and sexual activity. And what are those three factors?

Factor #1:
Family cohesiveness. This involves a feeling of belonging, of being cared for, the realization that a youngster is wanted, loved, and a valued member of the family. This, of course, means that parents have to be there for their children. The myth of enough quality time compensating for long periods of absence just doesn’t work. Family cohesiveness means a child grows up with a sense of belonging to a tribe, and all the child care workers and government programs combined can’t replace the importance of parents being there.

Factor #2:
Parental expectations. Parental expectations become prophesies of future behavior. When kids know that parents believe in them and encourage them to avoid drugs, alcohol, and promiscuity, and parents themselves live by their own expectations, teens are far more apt to avoid behavior that parents condemn.

A side note: This, of course, implies that parents have definite ideas of right and wrong and are actually living out their own expectations for their kids. The truly effective parent is willing to own his or her own failures and model course corrections. Teens need to know what to do in times of failure because they’ve watched their parents model the behavior.

Factor #3:
Parental involvement in the life of a child. The hard fact remains that when a parent isn’t present in a home after school, at the dinner table and at bedtime, something important is missing, and something else—media or another teenager—will become a significant influence. All of us long for a tribe to belong to. This was God’s idea in the first place, as the Psalmist wrote, “God sets the lonely in families.” (Psalm 68:6)

So, research has done it again. It has certified the obvious. The Bible laid the foundation for the data almost 3000 years ago when it said, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it” (Prov. 22:6). In one sentence, the writer of Proverbs summarized what was true then, is true today, and will be true in the next generation:

Parents are still the most important force in the life of a child.

When teens feel connected to their families, and when parents are involved in their children's lives, teens are protected and they are free to grow and develop as God intended them to.

Being the parent of a teenager can be tremendously frustrating. But you only have a few years to pack their suitcase, then they’re gone. So, do a good job of it. May God give us His grace to model walking out our faith in this life with Him for our kids.

Resource reading: Proverbs 22: 1-16

Copyright © Guidelines International Ministries
All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Author Biography

Harold J. Sala
Web site: Guidelines International Ministries
Speaker, author and Bible teacher, Dr. Harold Sala founded Guidelines in 1963 and has served at its helm since its inception. Pioneering the five-minute commentary in Christian radio, Dr. Sala’s daily “Guidelines-A Five Minute Commentary on Living” is broadcast in 49 of the 50 states and is heard the world over in a variety of languages. Sala, who holds a Ph.D. in biblical text, has authored over 55 books published in 19 languages. He speaks and teaches frequently at conferences, seminars, and churches worldwide. Residing in Mission Viejo, California, Harold and his wife, Darlene, have three adult children and eight well-loved grandchildren.

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