Last week, I visited with my dear friend Gene Stallings, whom I coached under at Texas A&M, about “raising good kids.” I asked him what is the most important thing a parent could do to accomplish this goal. He quickly responded, “The most important thing of all is to be certain who your kids’ friends are.” I wasn’t surprised at his answer. I couldn’t agree more.
As our kamping season finishes strong here at Kanakuk, one of the things I love to see is how a group of kids, who didn’t know each other at the start of their term, develop friendships with other kampers. Boys and girls who had never met before become fast friends in just a week or two, and at the end of their time together, they can hardly bear to leave and go their separate ways.
Since we’re now into August, many of those kids—including yours, perhaps—will soon be returning to school. And there, too, they will strike up new friendships and renew old ones.
In last month’s letter about praying for our children, one of the things I asked you to pray was that your kids will desire the right kind of friends and be protected from the wrong kind. This time, I’d like to expand on the importance of that concern.
But, the opposite is also true: The wrong kind of friend will drag his or her friends down and draw them away from God. “Bad company corrupts good morals,” we’re told in 1 Corinthians 15:33.
Friends, peers, running mates, boyfriends, and girlfriends are the strongest influences in most kids’ lives. In our steep and slippery twenty-first century youth culture, what is a parent to do ‘between kamps’? How do we cope with and combat and navigate through the September to May days of a youth culture gone awry?
Kamp parents and personal friends, Gary and Norma Smalley, used to say, “Getting our kids into a small group of Christian friends who meet weekly for accountability is the most important and effective way to raise godly kids.” I couldn’t agree more. Scripture mandates the truth: “Wisdom is found in the counsel of many.” It’s true at age 40. It’s true at age 13.
I met with my oldest daughter’s eight “guy friends” every Friday morning from September through May from ninth grade through twelfth. Cooper’s eight friends and I met weekly from eighth grade through twelfth. Brady’s friends and I did the same. I insisted on their participation. We prayed together. I taught simple moral lessons. It wasn’t perfect. We had our ups and downs for sure, but the accountability and the reverse peer pressure navigated “the guys” through the adolescent melee.
Any Christian parent who’s willing to work at it can make the same kind of impact.
Effective parents must sit in the driver’s seat from the first day of their children’s elementary school through high school in terms of choice of friends and close associations. When kids first begin to go over to each other’s homes to spend the night, a visionary parent must know a lot about the proposed friend, his or her family, and the terms of the evening. Otherwise, refuse the invitation and ask the friend to your house until you get better acquainted.
Your young kids need to know from day one that you’re in charge and will be their active consultant in the area of close peer associations. This is a “fight” worth having, if necessary, a hill to die on.
As your kids enter middle school and gain more trust, continue to ask questions and do your homework before letting out the reins.
In high school, trust and independence are important for growth and individualization, but parents who abandon their God-given role invite deep adolescent problems into their family. Stories of unmonitored teen drinking and sex parties constantly flow through the phone lines and email boxes of our Kanakuk directors during the non-kamp months.
In short, parents, few things are as important to the healthy spiritual and emotional growth of your children as their choice of friends. Be actively involved in those choices and in those relationships from the beginning. There’s no better investment of your time and energy.
Thank you once again, moms and dads, for allowing us at Kanakuk the great privilege of ministering God’s grace and truth to your kids this summer. It’s an honor we will never take lightly.
Together for kids,