Christian leader gives best practices of revolutionary parenting
For parents at Westside Christian Academy's recent Family Strong Series event, Dr. George Barna gave them the bottom line within the first few minutes of his presentation.
He first laid out the crises faced by youth today in terms of morality, relationships, physical health and spirituality. He then stated the research which formed the basis of his book, "Revolutionary Parenting: Raising Your Kids to Become Spiritual Champions," indicated that “who you become depends on what happens in your heart and mind by age 13.”
The developmental stages he identified were that morals and values are established by age 9, relationships by age 12, and spiritual beliefs and habits by age 13. Teens and those in their 20s will refine and apply what they learned as pre-teens. After that, with some exceptions, adults seek to reinforce what they already believe.
These facts influenced Westside Christian Academy’s (WCA) headmaster, Jim Whiteman, to invite Dr. Barna as a speaker for the annual series and the luncheon for pastors and children’s ministry workers earlier in the day.
“We see the role of the WCA as coming alongside parents to help them in their primary responsibility for raising their children,” said Mr. Whiteman. “Our free Family Strong Series events are designed to provide access to resources to parents in the community who may not have children enrolled at WCA.”
In the study Dr. Barna conducted with parents whose adult children were thriving in their 20s, he found that the key to strategically parenting the children was to begin when they were as young as 18 months to 2 years. Since 60 percent of what we learn comes from observation, establishing priorities and applying beliefs and values consistently in the home sets a good foundation even at this young age.
That consistency also means some things have to be non-negotiable. He noted that when parents are predictable, it helps children to anticipate results. Children need structure but many will hate it. He reminded his listeners that parenting is not a popularity contest.
He asked the parents to consider how they will evaluate how well they have raised their children.
“We have set the bar so low that we can trip over it and call it success,” he said. “The basic needs are met. Any negatives are passed off as typical of the [child’s] age.”
Often the parenting strategy is to do what is necessary to meet the culture’s standards or use trial and error to see what will produce an outcome that will leave the parent feeling satisfied. However, the parents that succeeded in his study used biblical principles, as a comprehensive framework.
Yet he cautioned that he found in his research that even within families where the parents did the right things, some of their children were not living the way the parents had hoped.
“There are no guarantees in the process. You can do everything right but the child will not become a spiritual champion. Sometimes they will make the wrong choices … In Christ there is hope.”
Unless parents approach parenting as their primary job in life, in spite of the culture’s pressure that they focus on succeeding in their careers, accumulate wealth, etc., they will not succeed. “Don’t hold anything back,” he said. Parents may need to seek out training and tools they need since “you can’t give what you don’t have.” Although sometimes parents look to the church to teach morals and spiritual values and beliefs, it is not a substitute for the parent. It can, however, be a support system.
When parents own their roles, they can focus in on building their children’s character. He noted the Bible lists 48 character traits. Parents need to define critical values and beliefs, looking for teachable moments. Even enforcing curfews helps children develop self-discipline.
Among the specific advice he gave were to model behaviors which their children would observe and explain their reasons for specific choices so the children see the use of logic and connections. To help their children grow, they should also set, pursue and measure the achievement of goals. Parents should influence the choice of friends and limit media exposure.
Their efforts can create a family life that emphasizes SLOW (Serve, Love, Obey and Worship). Especially important is for parents to listen to their child and then listen more. Asking questions to clarify what the child has said helps the parents better understand the real issues and also build the relationship.