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Lessons From the Rainey Game Preserve

Five tips for how to remain involved in your teenagers’ lives.

By Dennis and Barbara Rainey

Teenagers were causing a huge problem in one section of South Africa. They were running wild in the untamed bush and are creating havoc with wild animals in a popular game reserve near Pilanesberg. According to a Los Angeles Times report, the teenagers killed rhinos, charged cars of safari-goers, and even killed one German businessman who was rescuing his toddler who had fallen out of a car window.

Who were these adolescent bullies?

Transplanted teenage orphans. Young male bull elephants.

The problem began with zoologists transplanted a number of juvenile elephants to Pilanesberg that had been abandoned in another game park. No older elephants existed in Pilanesberg to help “raise” the youngsters.

According to the report, the young bulls were coming into sexual maturity 10 years earlier than normal, and the “effects of their broken home life are becoming dangerously apparent. … Rebuffed by older elephant cows, some teen-age bulls have taken to mating with the white rhinoceros… Several rhinos have been killed in the process. Other young bulls are taking out their aggression on people, charging groups of tourists…”

To solve the problem authorities introduced a half dozen adult bull elephants—all more than 40 years old. One zoologist stated, “Hopefully, the adult bulls will put these young elephants into their place.”

In the six months that followed, there were no reported incidents with rhinos or tourists.

Parents need to be involved

Though we have never supervised the rearing of teenage elephants, Barbara and I did raise six human teenagers, and we can affirm the initial findings in South Africa: Teenagers need parents to be involved in their lives.

It’s true in our home and it was true in King David’s home. Consider the arrogant and rebellious son of King David, Adonijah. In 1 Kings 1:6 we find a clue to why Adonijah ran wild. Speaking of Adonijah, the Scripture says, “And his father had never crossed him at any time by asking, ‘Why have you done so?’” (NASB).

David’s mistake? He didn’t let his son know when he had stepped across boundaries. David may have not even established boundaries. The King may have been too busy to get involved in Adonijah’s life.

Obviously, David’s error does not excuse his son’s rebellion. But it contributed to the problem. In fact, his son’s rebellion may have even resulted with Adonijah pushing David out of his life. Teens do that.

After years of managing the Rainey Game Preserve, Barbara and I have learned the following lessons. Clip this out and save it…someday you may need to re-read this.

Lesson #1: Your teenagers need you to prayerfully stay involved in their lives by asking questions.

They won’t always welcome you, but hang in there.

Check up on them. Ask them when they went to bed. Who are they texting or talking to on their smartphone? Ask them who their best friends are. What kind of homes do their friends come from? Where did they go on their date? What are their boundaries with the opposite sex? How far do they intend to go sexually before marriage?

Lesson #2: Your teens need you to persevere when they push you out of their lives.

This has happened with nearly all our teens. They want their space. If you let them, they will push you away.

Don’t give in to this dangerous game of isolation! They may think they need “distance,” but in reality they are not adults…not yet. Pursue a relationship. Love them, even when they are unlovable.

Lesson #3: Your teens need you to believe in them.

The teenage years are clouded with self-doubt and insecurities. The social pecking order in junior high and high school can be brutal. Your teens need you to create a harbor in the storms of puberty and hang tough with them.

Mark this down: From the age of 13 through age 17 a child really questions himself: “Can I do it? Am I worth anything? Who am I?” During these times he needs you to step in and express belief. He needs to hear things like, “I really like you!” “What a great person you are!” Or, “God’s got a plan to use you in a huge way!”

You may have to pause a few moments and think, but you can find a way to express your belief in your child. Write him a letter and leave it on his pillow. One of your jobs as a parent is to keep hope alive-you do that by being involved and believing in him.

Lesson #4: Your teens need you to be involved and help them establish boundaries in their lives.

God has given you an assignment of drawing lines and boxes. Who they can hang out with, and who they can’t. Where they can go. When they need to be home. What movies they can watch. What they can wear.

And I believe God expects you to inspect what you expect. Some time ago, I got in our car after church and our car wouldn’t start—the battery had run down. After some careful questioning, it turned out that one of our children had skipped youth group and listened to music in the car for 90 minutes. Caught!

God will help you “catch” your children doing what’s right and what’s wrong. But you have to be looking. Be alert.

Lesson #5: Your teens need you to be involved in their lives as they do battle over sin.

In even the best of teenagers “foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child.” (Proverbs 22:15, NASB). Prayer is your most powerful weapon, and tough love is a close second. After you’ve prayed, don’t hesitate to call sin what it is in your child’s life.

Sin is deadly. It’s dangerous. It destroys and cripples lives. David lost his son Adonijah because he refused to confront him with the consequences of his wrong choices. Some parents fear that if they confront him and discipline their children they’ll lose them—run away from home, lose their relationship, etc. But teenagers need parents who will restrain them from evil and will love them enough to discipline them.

These are among the most challenging days in our nation’s history to raise a child. May God enable you to manage your own game preserve and be involved the way your teens need you to be!

Copyright © by FamilyLife. Used with permission.

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