If you send your children to school, day care, church, the neighbor’s backyard—anywhere, really—chances are they’ll be exposed to behaviors, ideas, and language you don’t endorse. How can we teach our kids to handle negative influences beyond our control? Here are some helpful suggestions for keeping tabs on your child’s heart in the face of worldly input.
Pray—Of course, prayer is key. Pray for your child’s protection, spiritual growth, wisdom and discernment, yes, but don’t stop there. Pray also for the people or situation at the center of the negative influence, and teach your child to do the same. For example, if a classmate consistently acts out and disrupts your child’s school environment, acknowledge that the “trouble” child might be struggling with his own negative influences. Pray for God to protect and guide that child, his parents and teachers. Let’s pray beyond our own comfort and remember to lift up others in need—even if those “others” are the cause of our distress.
Communicate—Talk to your kids daily about what’s happening at school, youth group, or among peers in general. Listen when they express concerns about what they’re seeing and hearing. Empower them to respond in a way that honors God and their own integrity (more about that in a minute). And stay alert for any changes in behavior that you suspect is the result of poor influences so you can address these issues before they get out of hand.
Volunteer—Getting involved with your child’s school, youth group or sports team is a great way to witness firsthand the type of environment and influences your child is steeped in all day long. The more you know, the better you’ll be able to assemble an accurate picture of your child’s world and determine the right solutions to match the problem.
Equip—Coach your child to face negative influences with confidence by practicing godly responses. For example, when my daughter came home and said a child in her class was using swear words, I didn’t panic. I simply explained what the words meant, and told my daughter those words hold no power over her—in fact they’re unimaginative. Then we brainstormed words we could use instead to express the same meaning, like “Oh my goodness! Yowsah!! Sugar snap peas!” (Have fun with it!)
Then, encourage your child to respond to negative influences with grace. Matthew 18 tells us we should first go to the source. In my daughter’s case, I urged her to tell the cussing child that his language bothers her. If he continues (which he most likely will and then some—just to irritate her), she can then go to a teacher.
However, our response to negative influence should go far beyond confrontation. We must teach our kids to respond internally, too. How?
- Start by teaching them to memorize a Bible verse that calms them and recite it whenever they hear bad words or see disturbing behavior.
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8)
- Instill in your kids the truth that “bad company corrupts good character” (1 Corinthians 15:33), therefore they should “Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm” (Proverbs 13:20). Teach them to seek out trustworthy friends who draw them closer to God, not further away. Good friends can hold one another accountable and encourage each other to withstand peer pressure.
“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17)
- Explain to your children that the right thing is not always the popular thing; therefore, they might sometimes find themselves standing alone. But remind them they are never really alone. God is always with them, giving them the strength and wisdom to stand up for what’s right.
“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)