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10 things your kids may not tell you

(But we thought you should know)

By Christina Quick

Sure, they may talk back, roll their eyes and tune you out at times. But take heart, parents. Your moody, growing, changing, baffling children need you like crazy. In fact, we’ve waded through mountains of research to find out what your school-age kids might tell you — if they didn’t have an image to maintain.

1. “You’re the most important person in my life.”

As kids mature, they depend less on parents and typically gravitate toward peer groups for advice, affirmation and approval. But don’t underestimate the amount of leverage you can continue to have in your child’s life.

A 2001 survey by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy asked teens who was most likely to influence their decisions about whether to have sex: friends or parents. Only 32 percent of respondents answered “friends,” while 38 percent said parents were their biggest influencers.

“Research consistently shows that teens who feel connected to their parents do better in school and experience fewer typical adolescent problems, such as emotional distress, drug use and early sexual involvement,” says Dr. Christina Powell, an Assemblies of God minister, Harvard researcher, and founder of Life Impact Ministries in Boston.

2. “I need boundaries.”

They may not openly thank you for having a set of house rules, but kids are happier and better adjusted when they know what’s expected.

Numerous studies have demonstrated the importance of establishing parameters for children and teens. Family rules and consistent discipline have been linked to lower rates of tobacco use and delinquency as well as better school performance.

When it comes to moral issues, make a real effort to model biblical standards and reinforce them during regular family discussions and devotion times.

Guidelines on such things as curfew, Internet and cell phone use, television viewing, and household responsibilities vary widely from one home to the next. Communicate your policies clearly and enforce them consistently. You may even choose to put them in writing when appropriate.

Don’t neglect topics that may seem obvious, such as family prohibitions on drinking and drug use. A 2005 Partnership for a Drug-Free America poll revealed that more than 10 percent of parents never bothered to talk to their kids about drugs — double the rate of six years earlier.

If children are getting less input from parents these days, isn’t that all the more reason not to neglect serious discussions in your home?

3. “I want to be noticed.”

“I have grown up so much in my life but they don’t notice me at all unless they want to yell at someone,” a teen named Steven wrote about his parents in an online post.

Whether Steven’s assessment is accurate or mere teenage hyperbole, studies show many youngsters are hungry for more parental attention.

Divorce and long work hours often keep parents from being as accessible as children would like. In a poll by the Nickelodeon cable television network and TIME magazine, 36 percent of kids between the ages of 9 and 14 said they would like to spend more time with their mother, and 45 percent wished for more time with their father. The youngsters indicated they would especially enjoy doing fun things with their parents like playing games and sports, shopping, and watching movies.

The survey also revealed a generational disconnect when it comes to perceptions of parental involvement. While 92 percent of parents surveyed said they were very interested in their children’s schoolwork, only 75 percent of kids agreed.

The longing for more parental guidance is prevalent even among older youth. In a March 2007 poll by a higher education association, nearly 30 percent of college-bound high school seniors said they would like their parents to be more involved in the college selection process.

“No matter how independent your child acts, stay involved in his life, show interest in her activities and be available when your teen is ready to talk,” Powell says.

4. “I’m tempted to compromise just to fit in.”

It’s no secret that most preteens and teens crave the acceptance of peers. While that’s a normal desire, it can sometimes lead to destructive behavior.

In the Nickelodeon and TIME poll, 42 percent of children between 9 and 14 said fitting in was a major concern, and 37 percent admitted worrying a lot about being popular. Many of the kids also said they felt pressured by peers to cheat on schoolwork (48 percent), smoke pot (36 percent) and have sex (40 percent).

The good news is parents can help equip their kids to combat peer pressure. A study earlier this year found that kids who are assertive in their convictions and know how to weigh the consequences of their actions are less likely to use alcohol, tobacco and marijuana, even if friends and siblings choose to do so.

5. “Those corny things we do are kind of cool.”

Whether it’s hanging stockings at Christmas or visiting a favorite fishing spot each summer, family traditions are important.

Such practices bring family members together, promote interaction, create memories and build common bonds. Various studies over the years have associated family rituals and routines with adolescents’ sense of personal identity, children’s health, academic achievement and stronger family relationships.

Even the simple act of sitting around the dinner table is beneficial. Several studies have linked family meals — especially those that take place in a positive environment — to lower incidence of smoking, drinking, drug use, depression, academic problems and eating disorders among children and teens.

“It doesn’t have to be a home-cooked meal — the idea is to bring people together,” says Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, author of one such study at the University of Minnesota.

6. “You’re my hero.”

When you think of teen role models, perhaps movie stars and professional sports figures come to mind. Researchers have found, however, that young people may first look for role models in their own homes.

In a survey by the National Institute of Mental Health and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, more than half of respondents between the ages of 12 and 17 said they had a role model. Of those, 40 percent named an athlete, singer or other famous character as their hero of choice while 42 percent named a parent or relative.

Those who knew their role models personally had higher grades and self-esteem than those who looked up to celebrities.

7. “Your stress affects me.”

Earlier this year, the Families and Work Institute of New York published the results of a study on career life as it relates to children.

Interviewers asked kids ranging from third through 12th grade what they would most like to change about how their parents’ work affects them. Most of the children expressed the same wish: that their parents would be less stressed at the end of the workday.

Another report recently published in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine shows that as much as parents may try to conceal their anxiety, stress affects the entire family. The analysis revealed that children whose parents and families are experiencing stress have more frequent bouts of illness with fever.

Further, a study of Florida storm victims affected by Hurricane Charley in 2004 found that children’s coping abilities correlated with their parents’ stress levels. When parents reported severe stress-related symptoms, their children suffered similar problems.

Candy Tolbert, mother of two and national Girls Ministries director for the Assemblies of God, says parents can often spare their kids the worry by staying connected to God and finding ways to manage stress.

“It is a wise parent who can learn to redeem the time on that ride home after a stressful work day,” Tolbert says. “This can be as easy as meditating on a favorite Scripture passage or listening to a favorite worship compact disc. The point is to decompress before greeting your children.”

8. “I need you to interfere.”

Parents of adolescents often walk a tightrope of trying to nurture without stifling their children’s growing sense of autonomy.

“As children reach the pre-teen and teen years, they move toward greater independence from their parents,” Powell says. “This change is both a healthy and necessary part of preparing for adulthood. Yet preteens and teens are not yet adults and they need their parents’ love and guidance now more than ever.”

At times, a parent’s best efforts are met with resistance and pleas of, “Let me live my life,” and, “Stop treating me like a 2-year-old.” Your kids may not recognize it now, but your concern and loving interference can help them along the road to maturity.

One of the goals of staying involved in a child’s life, and interfering when necessary, is to help them develop discernment so they can make good decisions on their own — choosing healthy relationships instead of following the wrong crowd, for example.

A 2005 Ohio State University study found that kids who have supervision and a good relationship with parents are, in fact, less likely to associate with delinquents and troublemakers.

“Some scholars have suggested that parents exert virtually no influence on their children’s behavior when they are teens — peers are seen as that much more important,” says Chris Knoester, assistant professor of sociology at Ohio State and the study’s lead author. “However, we found evidence that parents can act as architects of the friendship choices their children make.”

9. “I want you to expect great things.”

A lot of criticism has been leveled against parents who push their kids toward unrealistically high levels of achievement. While that kind of pressure is unhealthy, it can be just as harmful to express no expectations for a child.

Regardless of school performance or other accomplishments, children and teens should hear often that they are special individuals created in God’s image. When they’re tempted to settle for anything less than their personal best, they need loving reminders of their unique abilities and potential to do great things.

A White House publication dealing with adolescent substance abuse cites several studies linking positive parental expectations to reduced risk of alcohol and drug use.

“The parent who communicates clear expectations of behaviors, clear values and expectations for educational standards and goals, and proactive ways to manage stress and conflict in a positive manner develops resilient behaviors in the child,” the report says.

10. “Hearing you talk about God is important.”

As a Christian, you already know it’s true. Now there’s evidence that church participation and family discussions about faith-related matters can make a big difference in your children’s lives.

Parents who regularly attend church and talk to their kids about their faith have progeny who are happier and better behaved, according to researchers at Mississippi State University.

The survey involved 16,000 kids, most of them first-graders. The children from church-attending homes were found to work better with peers and have better self-control and more respect for others compared to kids from nonreligious families.

The most positive results were found among children whose parents discussed faith at home and didn’t argue about religion.

Gary Allen, Assemblies of God director of Ministerial Enrichment, says he and his wife, Arlene, routinely interjected conversations about faith into everyday activities while raising their two boys.

“While listening to the news or watching TV, we would ask, ‘Why was that wrong?’ or, ‘Is that the Christian thing to do?’ ” Allen says. “We tried to integrate faith and prayer into daily living, moment by moment.”


CHRISTINA QUICK is staff writer for Today’s Pentecostal Evangel.

E-mail your comments to tpe@ag.org.

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