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Influence Optimizer #1: Model Authenticity

I once blogged about the importance of parental influence and mentioned five things that can increase it.  In this–and the following four posts–I will elaborate on what I call the Five Optimizers of Influence.  While nothing guarantees that our kids will make wise choices, my 31 years of youth ministry taught me that parents who become proficient in these five areas will have maximum impact on their kids.

1. Model authenticity.

Since character and values are more caught than taught, careful management of your own life and character is of critical importance.

  • Want them to have high moral character?  Live it.  How can we expect them to be honest if we’re cheating on our taxes?  How will they be truthful if they see us calling in sick on the way to the golf course? How can we expect them to be respectful when we mock those of different political persuasions?  How will they learn patience and forgiveness if we don’t work on our road rage?  How will they be humble if they never see us apologize?
  • Want them to learn?  Show that you don’t know everything and that you have a teachable spirit.  Model a desire to seek truth wherever it may be found.  Show interest in learning from them;  they will likely want to learn from you in return.
  • Want them to open up to you?  Open up to them, speaking about things that really matter.  Be transparent and vulnerable about how you are growing and what your personal goals and dreams are–physically, relationally, spiritually, financially, etc.  Authenticity breeds authenticity just as superficiality breeds superficiality.  Such conversations may help you discover the unique person that they are.
  • Want them to be spiritually strong?   Devote yourself to the spiritual disciplines (prayer, Word, solitude, etc).  Spend less time monitoring their spiritual walks and more time focusing on your own spiritual development.  Let them see you carving out time to get alone with God.   Let them see your open, underlined Bible.  Let them see how developing intimacy with God is a priority in your life–not just lip service–and that it is changing you for the better.  Show joyful obedience, generous giving,  and eagerness to do ministry — all flowing from a heart of thankfulness, never obligation.
  • Want them to be careful about their internet use?  Show them your own commitment to internet accountability by giving your social media passwords to your spouse and not shying away from random checks on your computer use.  Show how you proactively guard yourself against porn and other online temptations.
  • Want their dating life to be God-honoring?  If you’re married, model a God-honoring marriage.   Let them see you reading books to strengthen your marriage and see your eagerness to attend marriage conferences.  Let them see two imperfect people who are committed to relational growth.  Be a team.  Regularly show forgiveness, love, and respect toward one another as well as much displayed affection.  Talk about the importance of exclusivity in your relationship.   If you’re single, explain your beliefs about marriage and expose your kids to healthy marriages.
  • Want them to be plugged into a faith community?  Don’t allow Sunday sports leagues to interfere with church attendance–think what that teaches them about your priorities!  If you make church involvement important to you it likely will become important to them for the rest of their lives.
  • Want them to take care of themselves?  Show how you are taking care of yourself.  Attend to your personal growth needs and show self-respect. Parents who are so busy meeting the demands of their children become doormats, unintentionally teaching that parents are push-overs and that kids can be entitled.

Tomorrow I will elaborate on the next Influence Optimizer!

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What my garden taught me about parenting.

gardenMany of you know that since becoming an empty nester, I’ve taken up Square Foot Gardening.  The concept is unique:  you build raised-bed platforms, fill them full of fertile soil, and partition each one into sections that are exactly 12 inches by 12 inches.

In each square you can plant different crops.  The size and nature of each plant determines how many of them you can put into one square:  1 cabbage, 4 spinach plants, 16 carrots, etc.  As you can see from my photo, I had great success with it this past summer.  I had 96 squares, each clearly labeled with the type of seeds that were planted in it.  With that many squares at my disposal I planted just about every vegetable known to man!

One day in June as I was doing some weeding, I noticed one square with a plant I didsunflowern’t recognize.  It certainly wasn’t the jalapeno plant that my label indicated should be growing in that spot.  I almost pulled it out.  But it looked determined and my curiosity got the best of me, so I decided to let it grow to see what would happen.

Before long, that plant was the tallest in my garden.  As it grew, Cindy and I began to suspect that this would turn out to be a giant sunflower plant.  Sure enough, that’s what it was!  (Ironically, this was one of the few plants I hadn’t planted in my garden.)

It dawned on me that our children are exactly like this.  We may have expectations of who they should become or what they will accomplish.  But in the end we have no control over that.  They are who they are.  Our job is to discover who they are, how God wired them, and help them develop into their potential.

Sometim1024px-Sunflower_Taleghanes we parents have expectations of how we want our kids to interact with others or fit in socially.  We may have specific ideas of how they should learn, grow or develop.  Sometimes we may want our kids to follow in our footsteps, make us look good, or achieve our own unfulfilled dreams.  But is it possible that in doing so we may be pressuring them to be somebody they are not?  Could it be that God designed them in ways that are uniquely different than our expectations?  I suspect a lot of parent/teen conflict stems from just such pressure.

Better for us to look at our kids the way I did with that renegade garden plant — with curiosity rather than particular expectations.

As I often say, “Be a student of your student.”  Enjoy watching them grow into who God made them to be.  The harvest may not be what you expected, but it will be every bit as fruitful!

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