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Three Corrections to Make If Your Kids Go Astray

Let’s face it. Even the best teachers have students that don’t engage in class and fail. Even the best parents have children that don’t follow their example. Even the best coaches have young players that make poor decisions and disqualify themselves.

When kids go astray

According to nationwide research, when engaged parents see their kids are turning out poorly, the topic of arguments shifts from money to kids; well over 40% of the bickering is about the child. But while environment is a huge factor in how a young person turns out, there are other measurable factors. In order, the factors are:

  1. The personality (genes) of the child
  2. Their parents who raise them
  3. Peers and friends with which they spend time
  4. The primary adults in their life (coaches, teachers, mentors, etc.)
  5. Their school campus culture where they attend
  6. Society as a whole (media, technology, pop icons, role models, etc.)

Psychologists tell us there is such a thing as a “bad match” between parent and child. By this they mean, the personality of mom or dad just doesn’t connect with their son or daughter, and in fact, may bring out the worst. Sometimes, kids can grow up in a relatively healthy environment and still go astray.

So What Should We Do?

So, what do we do if we’re leading a kid well, but they’re not responding? First and foremost, don’t beat yourself up. The primary adults in the student’s life play a large role, but as we just noted, there are other factors. Next, check on the variables that are within your influence. There are always elements that are in your control, out of your control and within your influence. Adults must determine the difference. See if any of these top three factors are in place.

1.    We don’t model the way for our students.

I’ve found when I get frustrated with the students I lead (or even my own kids), sometimes I have failed to show them a better way. I have not modeled a healthy lifestyle or habit they could emulate. Remember, the number one management principle in the world is: people do what people see. I have a right to ask a kid to do something, if I have provided an example first. We teach what we know, but we reproduce what we are. Do it before you demand it.

2.    We enable them to spend too much time with their peers.

Today’s population of adolescents spends far more time with peers than they do with adults, and that number continues to climb. In contrast to past generations, today’s high school student will have three times as many hours with friends on Facebook, via text messages, and in person than with adults who demonstrate what maturity and responsibility look like. Their guidance is not from Socrates, Plato or Augustine, it’s from Josh down the street on Twitter. Invest time in them, just hanging out, talking or doing something they enjoy, together.

3.   We fail to manage the onslaught of negative input from our culture.

Negative influences in our culture are not something you can control, but you can influence them. Healthy parents and teachers monitor the input a kid gets via websites or social media and enables them to interpret it in a healthy way. The goal is never to isolate them, but to insulate them by providing a mature perspective and worldview. Kids need help knowing what to digest and what to not take seriously. Often, their worldview is shaped more by Kanye West or Lady Gaga than it is from Aristotle or Moses. With all due respect—today’s pop icons are seldom prepared to give our kids a healthy worldview or life philosophy. Manage their input through mentoring.

This list is only a beginning. What else would you add to it?


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photo credit: jbdenham via photopin cc


  1. Matt on November 7, 2013 at 10:25 am

    I feel like the personality in any person is a characteristic controlled by that person. Its hard for me to believe the logic that God created parents who are going to provoke their children to failure based on personality issues. I control my own demeanor based on my opinion for the people I interact with. Therefore I control whether or not my presence is conducive their growth and stability. Just the way I see things.

    • Tim Elmore on November 7, 2013 at 4:10 pm

      Totally agree. As you said, I don’t think God created parents who are going to provoke their child. But…they do anyway. Otherwise, Paul would not have had to exhort them not to in Ephesians. I know of parents who have a very different or very similar personality and if they or their child doesn’t yield to the other, there can be problems. It isn’t God’s fault. It’s ours.

    • Laraba on November 9, 2013 at 10:33 am

      My husband and I have 8 children, and our 1st son (and 3rd child) is the one that clashes most with my personality. Honestly, he drives me crazy sometimes for a myriad of reasons. I think I am doing a good job being his mother — he loves me, I love him, we enjoy talking, we spend times together, etc. But I am aware that I don’t “click” with him well, and I have to pray for more patience and wisdom than with some of the kids who are more like me.

  2. Rosie on November 8, 2013 at 4:27 pm

    I like tour second point a lot. I believe that it is a good time for kids to spend time with adults,especially their parents. Kids today are so focused on spending time with their peers that they miss out on the wisdom of experienced adults.

    • Tim Elmore on November 12, 2013 at 1:27 pm

      Thanks for the comment Rosie! I appreciate your thoughts.

  3. Adam McGoldrick on November 9, 2013 at 10:36 pm

    Hi Tim,
    I have 3 suggestions, first one refers to your suggestion that we model what we want from our children, it is obviously a good idea, but what if you don’t have the character you want to encourage in your children? Real character is shown at the moments we have least control over and inevitably we are going to make bad decisions based on our lack of character. My suggestion is to be honest with your children about your own lack of character and let them know that you expect them to be better than you. Praise them whenever they do show the character you expect, and make sure you are specific with your praise.
    The second suggestion is around spending more quality time with them. I especially like creating quality time around the dinner table, if we have a good habit around dinner table conversations we are always in the loop on what is going on with our children.
    My third suggestion is around pop culture, we need to keep in mind that we are bringing up our kids in order to release them into the world when it comes time. Hiding life’s realities from them means we can’t educate them about those realities. It seems harsh to expose children to things like sex, drugs and alcohol, but our messages are far more likely to get through when they are children. We have so much to teach them with so little time. Once our children hit puberty and their social life becomes all important, our ability to make an impact on their behaviour diminishes at a remarkable rate.

    • Richard Jr. Copeland on November 11, 2013 at 8:57 am

      Sometimes it is best to study the real thing instead of the counterfeit. Let me explain. When a bank is training its employees how to spot a counterfeit they give the employee a real dollar bill to study, not a bunch of fakes. If we study the real money we can spot a counterfeit easily. In regards to your third suggestion, I think we need to model what a good relationship and lifestyle looks like. I don’t think I want to expose my son to anything he is not ready to comprehend, but I would like to daily model what true love is by showing love to my wife. I also want to model temperance and sobriety so that he will understand you can have fun and still remember the party. I agree we need to teach them while we have the greatest influence in their lives, but I would rather model the real instead of have him study the counterfeit.

      • Tim Elmore on November 13, 2013 at 3:47 pm

        Great illustration, Richard! Thank you for sharing!

      • Adam McGoldrick on February 25, 2014 at 12:01 am

        Hi Richard, nicely put, and true enough. The point I was trying to make and forgive me if I failed to make it properly, was that while it is good advice to model the genuine article, many parents don’t have that luxury. Even though showing good character is something we should all aspire to in our parenting, it is not necessarily something that we all have, and try as we like, if we don’t have character it will show up, no matter how hard we try. All of us are flawed in some way. If we hold ourselves up as the perfect example kids are going to be looking for the flaws and when they find them that is exactly what they will remember. When you make mistakes, admit that you are flawed and apologize, that way kids aren’t going to crucify you for every mistake you make and they are less likely to be influenced by the mistake. They won’t be saying “Dad does that so it must be o.k.”

    • Tim Elmore on November 13, 2013 at 3:46 pm

      Thanks for sharing, Adam! I love the dinner suggestion. One thing I
      would add to your first suggestion is to show your kids how you are working to
      improve your character. We also need to model to kids the process of improving one’s

      • Adam McGoldrick on February 24, 2014 at 8:33 pm

        That is a great point Tim, just in the attempt to improve our character, we show it’s true value.

  4. Jehú Barranco on November 11, 2013 at 12:43 am

    I think the third point is a huge one. “We fail to manage the onslaught of negative input from our culture.” I recently read an article on how parents are buying the new game “Grand Theft Auto V” for their young children. Some of these were 9 and 10 year olds, and and when the shop owner tried to warn the parents he was was brushed off. I don’t know what we expect out children to get from these kinds of games, but it’s sad to see how we’re handling the situation.

    • Tim Elmore on November 12, 2013 at 1:36 pm

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts. That is very sad how those parents don’t see how those types of games could negatively affect their children.

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Three Corrections to Make If Your Kids Go Astray