Though prone to mischief, the boy was from a respectable middle class family. Handsome and charismatic, he easily led other fellows.
Not yet teens, he and his wannabe’s got nabbed stealing coal from railroad cars and landed in juvenile court. Cap pulled over one eye and smacking gum, the boy was defiant before the judge.
Imagine the parents of the other boys. I’ll bet they sat in the courtroom and said, “I KNEW that kid was a bad influence!”
The boy was John Dillinger. He grew up to be named Public Enemy Number One by J. Edgar Hoover in 1934.
If our child has a friend who’s a bad influence, odds are they won’t make the FBI’s Most Wanted list, but as far as their affect on our child, we can’t ignore 1 Corinthians 15:33: “Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.” (NIV)
We pray that our children will walk away or stand firm in the face of friends who are bad influences.
But suppose they copy bad behavior?
PhD-less in child psychology, I’m a parent attending the University of What Now, Lord? ALWAYS seek God’s guidance in these matters, but here’s my two cents:
The younger the child, the more influence parents have over who they interact with, and the where and when. We can nip a friendship, or limit it to our turf, where we can keep watch and provide on-the-spot correction for smarty mouth, fibbing or reckless play.
Ah, but the older children get, the more influence their friends have—and the type of influences has parental prayer time setting new records.
Whether a child is five or 15, it helps to discern why they’re drawn to friends whose influence is bad. They might not like the friend as much as they like what the friend offers—a hot image, excitement. Perhaps they have self-esteem problems or trouble gaining acceptance elsewhere— and compromise principals for inclusion.
If we know the “why”, we can answer the “how” when it comes to redirecting their footsteps. It takes understanding a child, which requires honest assessment and non-critical communication. 1 Thessalonians 5:11 says we’re to encourage and build up, while Galatians 6:1 instructs us to lead gently. We must foster our children’s worth and the type of friends they deserve. Once a child agrees, we can discuss ways to overcome issues and find those friends.
Despite all efforts, a child might resist backing off a friendship—scary stuff when the influence isn’t just weird clothes.
We’ve heard that axing friendships, especially among teens, ignites the forbidden fruit syndrome and makes children rebel.
Hmmm…aren’t they already rebelling by engaging in friendships we disapprove of?
“Well yes,” some parent’s hedge. “But staying cool about it is better than having them sneak around.”
I’m dumbfounded by “better than” excuses—parents hosting drinking parties because it’s better than DUI, supplying birth control because it’s better than pregnancy.
In her article, “Baby Boom Parents Are Asleep on the Job”, syndicated columnist and Fox News contributor Michelle Malkin asks, “When did ‘better than’ judgments replace doing what’s best for your children?1
I have a question, too. If a child’s friend is leading them into drinking, drugs, sex or anything else life-altering or worse, are we to believe they’ll be unscathed if we supervise the sinning?
When down yonder freezes, folks.
After drugs led to his son’s death, actor Carroll O’Connor said, “Get between your kids and drugs anyway you can. Do whatever it takes. Yes, it’s hard. But so is seeing your kid in a coffin.2”
That applies to any dangerous behavior. If whatever it takes means cutting a friendship, get the scissors—even if it demands padlocking the car, changing neighborhoods or touring military academies.
If we cower, we’re sending our child a message: You’re not worth fighting for.
The friend’s parents might want to fight for their child, too. Do we sing? Like birds in paradise. If my child is playing with fire, I pray someone clues me in.
In Matthew 12:11, Jesus mentions a sheep that’s fallen in a pit, then states the reaction if it happens to be our sheep:
We take hold of that sheep, and lift it out.
If we don’t save our sheep, we might be posting its bail—or identifying its body at the morgue.
That’s where Dillinger ended up after Federal Agents ambushed him.
His bad choices took him down.
And his followers in the notorious Dillinger Gang?
Your article is excellent! The content is interesting and applicable. Your phrasing and comparisons really drew me into your aritcle. Not to mention the encouragement I received as a parent! Thank you!