What Is Your Children's Future?

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What Is Your Children's Future?

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As director of a summer camp for teens, I've noticed that when youngsters arrive at camp you can always spot the ones who are insecure in the camp environment. They are generally the ones who either withdraw and lag behind or act like bullies and begin to terrorize others. Both types are usually insecure for more or less the same reasons. Often they simply don't have their future figured out yet.

For many young people, their identity- who they are and their vision of what they can become-is either practically nonexistent or distorted. As a result, many values that their parents thought they were imparting don't seem to take root and become a permanent part of their children's character.

This may not be all that noticeable at home, but when a young person arrives at camp it becomes apparent. The camper has to immediately interact with his peers, and how the youth feels about himself manifests itself almost immediately.

One of the major objectives at our summer camps is for young men and women to experience success. We feel it is vitally important that they have a clear picture of who they are and what they can become. Their future should be one of success.

Values are taught in the context of this vision. Values make sense when young people see how those values can result in a bright future.

Summer camps provide an opportunity for youths to experience success in a group context. They live and function among their peers for the rest of their lives. If they are accepted and accomplished in the eyes of their peers, that acceptance goes a long way to set the pattern for a successful future. At our camps we help young people create the vision of their future. This strong vision, in turn, can be their guide when false values present themselves.

There is a proverb that says, "Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint ..." (Proverbs 29:18). People will learn to restrain themselves if they are taught those values that spring from God's inspired Word, values that will produce a bright and positive future for them personally.

Consequences of lack of vision

Many young people experience a sense of hopelessness. A clear vision of where they are going and who they are is distorted by powerful influences.

Some of these strong influences-such as peers, television and gangs-redefine the future and teach false values that lead our children to seek short-term, counterfeit objectives palmed off as success. One of the strongest desires of any young person is to be accepted and approved by friends, to reach a certain significance among peers.

This is one of the reasons gangs are so alluring today. Gangs provide a quick and easy way to achieve acceptance by the group-usually by doing some harmful or evil act. This is a powerful influence because the individual is experiencing success-approval and acceptance from others.

It's natural for young people to want to be accepted by friends and peers. But all too often a condition for that acceptance involves the temptation to lower standards taught at home or church. Such temptation, and the pressure for acceptance, can be stronger than a teen's conscience. The short-term payoff is achieving some status with friends, but the consequences may be destructive, detrimental habits such as smoking, alcohol and drug abuse and premarital sex. Peer pressure, along with the effects of some of these behaviors, often results in lower grades at school.

Parents need to realize, too, the powerful influence of television. Seemingly it is able to create an instant vision of what a person can become. In reality, however, it creates only imaginary worlds filled with people acting out what are usually unrealistic and fantasized stories. These scenarios come complete with values that can become the guiding light of unwary viewers. Television is a powerful tool that, if unchecked, will create a counterfeit vision for young people, along with a corrupt value path to take them there.

The power of positive pressure

However, group influence can also be positive.

There are several deliberate strategies we put into action at summer camp. I ask our counselors, who have 10 to 12 young people in their dormitories, to work toward welding their dorms together into teams. We want to help those youths who lack confidence in what they can do, especially in front of their peers, to come out of their shell and experience success as part of a group.

Encouragement is the order of the day. No negative comments or put-downs are allowed. Any achievement in any activity, large or small, is recognized. This is a rule.

The bully likewise soon experiences success and discovers that healthy acceptance and approval among peers is far superior to the cheap respect he craved and demanded from others through his aggressive behavior.

Other behaviors such as negative comments and insults, sloppy habits, bad language and dirty tricks are soon replaced with team effort. Such behavioral problems are dealt with privately without ridiculing or demeaning anyone.

Our goal is to create an atmosphere in which right values pay off in the success the young people experience in the group environment. This offers a powerful incentive while it gives the young people a glimpse of the future. We want more than anything else for each camper to experience on a small scale what he can become through applying proper values and living life the right way.

Everyone wants success. Through these methods and strategies, we paint a picture, create a vision for our boys and girls. They begin to imagine the path they can walk that will lead them where they want to go, with better understanding of the values that will sustain them in their lifelong journey.

Challenge for parents

Can you do this for your children? If you are a parent, you have to make hard decisions. You have to sacrifice for your children. But you quickly learn that the price you pay is quite small in comparison to the wonderful results that can follow later.

Those of us who have worked at these camps have noticed the improvement in morale and hope in individual teens during the course of camp sessions. But I have also received reports that when they went home, within weeks or even days, some reverted to their old behavior and attitudes. The world they returned to became the dominant influence in their lives again.

At camp we strive to reinforce what we hope are the values youths are taught at home. Realistically, though, this isn't always the case. Maybe the values of the home aren't taught correctly, or maybe they're missing or neglected altogether. Our children are always learning values, either good or bad. If other influences prove to be more powerful than you as a parent, those influences will almost always become the teacher.

This, of course, is a dilemma for parents. What are you willing to do about it?

An example from history

The Bible contains a story about a man whose family grew into a powerful and successful nation. Although this tale is thousands of years old, it contains truths that are as applicable now as they were millennia ago.

God told Abraham what his children would become if he, Abraham, would change his life and do what God said. This was a powerful motivation, because every parent wants his children to have the best. Abraham listened and took God up on His promise that, if he would obey God and teach his children to obey, then God would make of him and his children the greatest nations on earth.

God would be their God and they would be blessed with national power and greatness such that even other nations would be blessed because of them. It was an extraordinary opportunity. You can read of these promises-which were passed from generation to generation-in Genesis 12, 15, 22, 26, 35 and 48.

Consider the effect this vision of their future had on these children as they heard-perhaps daily as they sat around campfires and walked in the fields-the promises of what they could become. Their destiny was painted for them by believing parents. The parents themselves had hope in their future and were blessed by God for their faithfulness and because they taught their children to obey Him.

Abraham passed this vision and these promises to his son Isaac, who in turn passed them to his son Jacob. You can imagine the effect of children growing up listening to the stories of their God-given destiny instead of the TV soaps and situation comedies that pollute the minds of so many youngsters today. Not that there weren't serious problems and difficulties to surmount along the way, but, as a result of this vision, Isaac and Jacob obeyed God and were recipients of the same blessings promised to Abraham.

Keeping the future in sight

Perhaps most striking in this saga of Abraham's family is the life of Joseph, a son of Jacob. Joseph was particularly influenced by the promises that God offered his great-grandfather Abraham. As an adolescent, Joseph was sold into Egypt with no hope of ever returning to his homeland and family. While in Egypt he was falsely accused and thrown into prison.

But through these trials Joseph never lost sight of who he was and what he could become, and he faithfully maintained his values under conditions that were far from favorable. All he had to sustain him were the promises of God he had grown up with and his belief and faith in God and what He had promised.

Without this vision Joseph undoubtedly would have lapsed into the flawed value system of Egypt and forsaken the true God. But with this vision he rose from spending time in prison to being named second in command of the most powerful kingdom of his age. God blessed Joseph with accomplishment and success in the face of extreme adversity, because he would not compromise his values.

As a parent, can you create an environment that will be a stronger influence than the forces of the world around you?

Parents are in an unusual and ideal position to create the powerfully influential world, complete with right and positive values, that can counteract the inferior and counterfeit value systems so effective at influencing our children.

Unfortunately, many well-intentioned parents unknowingly abdicate their God-given right, position and responsibility to shape their children's future. Sometimes incorrect or inadequate methods are used to instill values. Often parents simply don't know what to do. Others are not willing to make some hard decisions or follow through on their commitments.

Positive steps

What can you do? Here are some ways you can start:

Establish your purpose in life. Is it clear in your mind why you are on earth? Is that purpose the driving force in your life, and are you able to regularly express it to your children?

If you are not sure why you were born, consider Jesus' words. He taught that the great purpose in life is for humans to enter the Kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33). The Kingdom of God as Jesus described it is to become a member of the family of God. (To better understand this biblical truth, look at our booklet What Is Your Destiny?.

Jesus Christ also gave the values of His Kingdom, values firmly based on God's law. You can study them in the fifth, sixth and seventh chapters of Matthew. These are the values of mankind's future, values we are all destined to live by. Everything we do in this life to live by the values Jesus brought is part of our preparation for our role in the Kingdom He will establish when He returns to earth. This goal should change our lives.

If seeking the Kingdom of God becomes your major focus in life, you then have a powerful motivation to sustain your values in a world that so effectively undermines right values.

What are they learning from you?

Examine your own values. Is your value system based on the actions and decisions of others? If so, why should you expect your children to differ from the world around them?

Consider, for example, that Jesus taught as one of the foundational precepts of the Kingdom of God, "Let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No.' For whatever is more than these is from the evil one" (Matthew 5:37). It is a matter of righteous character to do exactly what you say you'll do and be exactly what you say you are.

God doesn't expect us to take oaths to confirm that we are telling the truth or to get us to commit to a particular course of action. We should simply be true to our word. We are to show consistently by what we are that our word is good.

Members of our family observe and learn from our actions more than from our words. Children in particular are quick to take note of hypocrisy. If they see parents paying only lip service to a principle and then violating it, children sooner or later will find an excuse to compromise sound principles they may have been taught.

On the other hand, if you the parent are seen to be sincere and will adhere to a principle to the point of personal sacrifice, you will inspire obedience in your child when the pressure is on him. Of course, this requires hard decisions and firm commitment.

Positive feedback for children

. Your children do many right things every day. Many times we focus on the wrong things they do and correct them when we notice their mistakes. But when they do something right-or even mostly right-it is equally important to notice that as well. As a parent, you want to reinforce the right things your children do in their lives.

Spencer Johnson, M.D., in his 1983 publication The One Minute Father, encourages parents concerning their children to "catch them doing something right." If kids are criticized constantly by parents for what they are doing wrong, they won't associate success with their home experience. Success, not failure, is what we want them to repeat throughout their lives. Success, not failure, is what we want for their future. The environment you create in your home will go a long way to help your children visualize a successful future.

You may have to change the way you view your child. I'm reminded of a story about Andrew Carnegie, who was at one time the largest steel manufacturer and the wealthiest man in America. He had 43 millionaires working for him at a time when millionaires were rare.

A reporter asked Mr. Carnegie why he had hired 43 millionaires. He responded that those men had not been millionaires when they started working for him; they had become millionaires as a result of working for him. The next question was, "How did you develop these men to become so valuable to you that you have paid them this much money?"

Andrew Carnegie answered that men are developed in the same way gold is mined. When gold is mined, several tons of dirt must be moved to obtain an ounce of gold. But one doesn't go into the mine looking for dirt; one goes in looking for gold. He had learned to look for and develop the best qualities in those working for him.

You might ask yourself what your children do right. If you follow a child-rearing pattern of constant criticism and correction, is it getting the desired results? Probably not. Instead, find what your offspring are doing right and tell them specifically what you like about them several times a day. Create this positive and encouraging environment in your home and you will likely find that you will have to correct less often. And, when you do give correction, it probably will be taken more seriously.

At summer camp we make sure every day that teens are a success in the eyes of their instructors and peers. This positive feedback encourages them to apply the values they are taught to achieve success.

Finding fulfillment

Take time with each of your children every day. Just like adults, our children want to say things that to them are important. When you give up your time to focus on your child, he will recognize that he is important to you. What is vitally important here is that your child is validated by you, not by someone outside your family who may influence him with values you don't approve.

A child left to himself seeks his own validation, often in ways that are destructive to others. We have noticed in our camps that some teens seek attention through insulting fellow campers, using foul language, breaking rules or generally making trouble. We take positive steps to help these teenagers because, too often, if they can't find positive reinforcement of who and what they are, they will instinctively seek affirmation in negative ways.

The right kind of self-worth is generated within a child by loving and principled parents. Improper self-worth can form when a child is left to contrive his own view of himself. You the parent are in the best position to create a vision of who your child is and where he is going. A powerful image is established in your child's mind because of your approval, acceptance and love. This image is reinforced with the values he incorporates to achieve success in the context of your family.

Parents must recognize that some children's need for acceptance is quite strong, and they can't take for granted that children are growing up secure and confident just because they have a home.

Zig Ziglar, in his book Raising Positive Kids in a Negative World, refers to a study in which 60 schoolchildren were divided into three groups of 20 and given arithmetic tests daily for five days. One group was consistently praised for its performance; another group was criticized; the third group was ignored. Those who were praised improved dramatically; those who were criticized improved also, but not so much; and those who were ignored hardly improved at all.

Parents can learn lessons from this example. Give your children the attention they need. Look them in the eye. Don't read a newspaper or watch television while you are talking with them. Convey genuine affection and interest. Listen intently to what they are saying. These actions convey the message that your child is important to you and you are deeply interested in what he says or how he feels. The greatest love is sacrifice. Give yourself to your children.

Positive feedback for children

Do your children have a bright future? If you leave it to the world around them to create their future for them, it is bleak indeed. If you help them create a vision of who they are and what they can become, experiencing success by employing right values, then their future is bright indeed. This vision has to be within them, and it has to be bright enough to protect them from the darkness outside.

Do you as a parent have a clear vision of your purpose in life? Does belief in that purpose sustain you to faithfully live by your values? God gives us the promise of the Kingdom of God and participation in the Kingdom as one of His sons forever. Not only that, but He is prepared to pass that promise on to your children just as the promises to Abraham were passed on to Abraham's children. God's promise is not just for us alone, "for the promise is to you and to your children ..." (Acts 2:39).

Families who see and hear the purpose of God set before them daily, forming the basis for who they are and where they are going, make use of a wonderful structure to establish a bright future for their children. A picture is painted; a vision is cast; the future thus becomes real and attainable.

When children grow up on the sure promises of who they are and what they can become, they attune their lives to the picture painted for them. Their future is indeed bright. GN