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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.