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Lessons From the Rainey Game Preserve: 6 Tips for Being Involved in Your Teenagers’ Lives

By Dennis Rainey

Teenagers were causing a huge problem in one section of South Africa. They were running wild in the untamed bush and 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 when 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 very 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, abandoning him to the culture and its lack of values.

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 try to do that, if you let them.

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 teens need to know that they are loved.

We had good teens, but even good teens can be tempted. When they fail, and they likely will, they need to know that your love is greater than their errors, foolishness, and rebellion.

Hug them and remind them you love them. We’ll never forget the day one of teens came home from school and got a big hug from Barbara. She let go. Our teenager didn’t.

What our teen was saying by continuing to hug her was, “It’s really hard out there. Peers are cruel. The culture is filled with lies, trying to deceive us. But my home is my refuge, my harbor in the storm. And Mom, your hugs remind me I’m loved. You comfort me, and you protect me.”

Love, real love, is both tough and tender. Do not underestimate the power of God’s love poured out through you as a mom or a dad. Your children need both.

Lesson #2: Your teenagers need you to prayerfully stay involved in their lives by asking questions.

They won’t always welcome your involvement, but hang in there because they need you whether they know it or not. They need the powerful guardrails of accountability to guide them and protect them.

Involvement and accountability checks up on them.

Ask them when they went to bed, and did they text or talk to any friends after the lights were out?

Ask who their best friends are, and who are they texting or talking to on their smartphone?

Do a little research on the kind of homes their friends come from.

Ask, “What are your boundaries with the opposite sex? How far do you intend to go sexually before marriage?”

The culture would say, “You don’t have any right to ask your kids those questions.” And parents should answer, “No, God gave us our children to raise to adulthood and I have the responsibility to do just that to the best of my ability.”

Children need accountability now more than ever before.

Lesson #3: Your teens need you to persevere when they try to push you out of their lives.

This happened with nearly all our teens. They want their space. If you let them, they will push you away. And if they have their way, they will push you completely out of their lives.

They will close and lock the door to their bedroom. Absolutely do NOT let them.

They will close the door and smoke pot in their room.

They will isolate you from their lives by telling you that you are the strictest parents in the universe. (If they hear that then you are likely doing a solid job.)

They will lie to you ... they will deceive you … all to create distance from you and keep you out of their lives and their stuff.

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 real relationship. Love them, even when they are unlovable.

Lesson #4: 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 children really question themselves: “Can I do it? Am I worth anything? Who am I?” During these times they need you to step in and express belief. They need 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 great way!”

You may have to pause a few moments and think, but you can find a way to express your belief in your children. One of your jobs as a parent is to keep hope alive ... and you do that by being involved and believing in them.

Lesson #5: Your teens need you to be involved and help them establish boundaries in their lives.

God has given you a unique assignment of drawing lines and boxes. Who they can hang out with, and who they can’t. Where they can go, and where they can’t. When they need to be home, and what will happen if they are late. 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, paying attention. Be alert.

Lesson #6: 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 for a lifetime. Your children don’t understand this now. But they will.

David lost his son Adonijah because he refused to confront him and discipline him with the consequences of his wrong choices. He spoiled him.

Some parents fear that if they confront their teens and discipline their children they will lose them—they’ll run away from home, cut off the 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 be a teenager and 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!

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