Teenagers and young people of God’s Church, I have a question to ask you: Who is teaching you? Do you really know? Someone is teaching you about life—how to live it, what to think about it, why you have it.
As someone who has many years of experience from the school of hard knocks, and who today has the privilege of teaching at God’s own college, I can look back on my life and see where I was “educated”—the good, the bad and the ugly!
Education is a good deal like eating: You cannot always tell which particular thing did you good; however, you can usually tell what did you harm. Influences in your life teach you. Whatever is influencing you is teaching you, whether you realize it or not.
Look around you at the world and its influences. This world is emphatically not a happy world! It’s a deceptive world (Revelation 12:9).
So I ask you: Who, or what, are you learning from in this world? Who or what is programming the way you think? Do you have control of who is teaching you—or do they control you without you even knowing?
This article is for young people who have life yet to live. Because you are young, you are impressionable. Your thoughts, your actions, your view of the world, your life is being affected by the influences you are in contact with.
There are six major influences for young people: 1) electronic media; 2) peers; 3) school; 4) reading; 5) parents; and 6) family learning.
Since World War ii, many changes have occurred in patterns of child rearing in the nations of Israel. Children or young people used to be brought up by parents. Over the years, young people’s conditions have changed—and not for the better. Factors outside of parental control have penetrated the very fabric of family life. This materialistic world has engulfed us in selfishness, divorce, broken homes, violence, destruction, sickness and mental illness. These are facts!
You, as the future leaders of the World Tomorrow, need to be different. You need to understand how to survive this world’s system, not follow it along! You need to be “streetwise” to who or what is teaching you.
Anyone can be a character. That is easy. But we need to develop right character. Let us examine the six major influences.
The first major influence includes television, computers and the Internet. Ask yourself, if you were a parent, would you be happy with your child watching what you sometimes watch? Be honest! How many hours a week does the tv get to program you or influence you? Do yourself a great favor and write out a list answering these questions (privately): What is wholesome about what I enjoy watching? Is it going to help me in the future? Did I learn anything? Was I just amused for a few minutes?
How about sports? Do you watch them way more than you actually play them? Do you watch The Key of David? If not, why not? Control your tv, computer, Internet, and iPod life. Do not allow technological wonders to control you. After all, you are a thinking, perceptive human being. If you can control-control-control these influences instead of the other way around, you will develop character! Then these under-control influences will help you instead of hurt you.
Now what about your friends or peers? Do they influence you positively or negatively? A true friend will want the best for you. If you are a true friend, you will want the best for the other person. There are very few friends that last a lifetime. Really, most of those we call “friends” when we are young are really just acquaintances. Yes, we know them, but that is about the strength of it. In most cases, friends grow up, just as you do, they choose their careers, their lifestyles and their future separate from your course. Friends and acquaintances are good. Just understand that they change. Don’t make long-lasting mistakes just because a temporary friend or acquaintance influenced you negatively. Friends are important as long as they are truly positive influences on you. Again, I challenge you to evaluate your friends. Maybe even write down how you feel in a journal. Ask yourself also: Am I a positive influence on my friends? Do I give to them or do I take from them? Influence works both ways.
Then we come to school! Here is an area where you have influences all around you. Think of how many hours you spend in school with all its influences. Your mental approach to school has a great deal to do with those school influences!
School is a place to learn and develop your mind as well as character. So ask yourself, what kind of mind do you want in 5 or 10 years? That is something you must decide now! Are you forming good mental habits that will bring success in your years ahead?
Learn to appreciate your teachers; seek their positive influences. This is a challenge at times, I know. But here is a wonderful opportunity to develop character! Evaluate yourself now and adjust yourself accordingly. No one has to know. Write in your journal how you feel about this, and when you are ready, take this up to another level and talk to your parents about it!
These first three areas are largely in your control—more so than anyone else. Here is the big challenge of your character. What will it be? Will you simply put down this article and do nothing? Or, will you listen to these words and carry them in your mind? Will you allow a positive influence to help you? This is your choice: positive or negative. No one else can do it for you.
Let us look at reading. What kind of things do you read? There is a world of influence here! This is a vital area. Reading is an area of education neglected by so many. Reading does not mean looking over glossy magazines or books of “romance.” Those sorts of stories are really fictional dreams.
You should learn from your parents how to read and to develop the habit. Good books teach; they develop your mind, affecting your character. Wrong books, especially today, can truly destroy a mind. Many years ago, I knew a young man who at high school began to read the wrong magazines. It led to pornographic books, then to confusion of his male role, then to even worse mental perversion. Finally, it led to suicide. A tragic waste! Yes, this happened! Wrong books are worse than heroin!
On the other side of the coin, you can learn so much from reading good books. This magazine is good reading, as is Church literature, biographies and autobiographies, books of great adventures of men who have had meaningful and challenging lives. Why not begin a library of your own? Talk to your parents and grandparents about what they read when they were young and seek education through reading widely. Positively plan to be very well-educated in this area, and choose the best influences.
Now how about your parents? They want the best for you. Deep down, they want you to be a great success in life. How is your approach to your parents? Here is a portion of a “Personal From the Editor” from Herbert W. Armstrong from the Plain Truth, November 1966. Mr. Armstrong had just attended the funeral of one of his beloved granddaughters. She had been born with a partial handicap, so she was special to Mr. and Mrs. Armstrong. She was only 3 pounds and 5 ounces at birth; the doctor had not expected her to live. He had actually prayed to God that if He wanted her to live, that He would give her breath. Little Carole Ann Matteson then uttered a feeble cry and began to breathe.
But Carole, Mr. Armstrong’s “Princess,” had internal complications that prevented her from gaining weight and gradually produced an enlarged heart. Her parents eventually realized she would probably never reach her 18th birthday.
When she was 16 1/2, she was reprimanded for being cross and bossy with the younger children. “The offense was not as serious as her letter indicates,” Mr. Armstrong said, “but the important thing is that she took it seriously when it was called to her attention. How many of you ‘teenagers’ who read this column would write such a letter? Here is her letter:”
Sept. 1, 1965
Dearest Mom and Daddy,
Not before today did I really know how I have treated you both. I am very ashamed of myself, and I don’t expect you to forgive me for all the years I have caused you needless pain. It seems to me now that I have totally wasted your time.
Well, I’m going to try to make up for it all. I feel very terrible, and I wish I could live over those lost years you spent trying to teach me some good behavior. From now on I’m going to act my age and help out as much as I can. I’m not going to quarrel with the kids and I will remember what you have always said to me, “If a thing is worth doing, it’s worth doing right.”
From now on I will also be neat and clean and wipe out my bossiness towards others. Maybe someday, and soon I hope, you will be proud of me, as you have been at times, when I was good.
My grades in school will go up this year too, and my new school clothes, as well as my old ones, will stay neat and where they belong.
I truly hope you can see an improvement in me soon. I think you are both the most wonderful and understanding parents any child ever could have. I love you and I’ll prove it!
Love, your daughter,
“And Carole DID PROVE IT!” Mr. Armstrong wrote. “I have always been astonished at her sensible and understanding mind. I think you can understand why Mrs. Armstrong and I, as well as her parents and brother and sister, loved her.”
When she was only 17 1/2, Carole Ann Matteson died. Elsewhere, Mr. Armstrong wrote, “[B]ut my little ‘Princess’ lived long enough to build a beautiful character. She set a splendid example for her younger sister and brother. She had a good, sound and sensible mind. She acquired a splendid attitude—a right spirit—that survives death, and will still be hers in the resurrection.”
“There is just ONE THING we can TAKE WITH US when we die—a RIGHTEOUS CHARACTER!” Mr. Armstrong concluded. “A girl like Carole has not lived in vain—and she shall live again!”
It is a wonderful, true story from God’s apostle about his own granddaughter.
We all have our battles to face, our Goliaths. Sometimes they seem overwhelming, but that is why parents are there—to help us through our sometimes difficult days. Remember, life is a pretty serious thing, and you only live it once!
You also need to realize that God has given you, through your parents, or parent, access to Him. Read 1 Corinthians 7:14. You are set apart, holy to God. God wants you to look to your parents for guidance and direction. How many of you teenagers who read this article would write such a letter to your parents?
Lastly, there is family-based learning. I am very aware that there are many “shattered” families. I myself came from one. My parents divorced when I was a teen—when I needed them the most. I do not blame them. The positive thing was that they really influenced me to determine right then, This will not happen to my family! I have now been married for 43 wonderful years, though not all perfect years. My children influence my life, and now my grandchildren do the same. Yes, even when we grow older, we still have influences.
Anyone can become a success, even from a hard beginning. Negative influences of this world break down families. However, it is going to stop! The God Family is going to stop that. Do you want to be a part of that? Or do you want to be a part of a world where Tiger Woods is the role model, no matter what he does? A world where he and many others influence you to do whatever you want whenever you want? No culture can build strong families and strong children with these kinds of influences!
That’s the world’s influence. How does any culture build strong families if that chaotic and abnormal view dominates? We need the God Family influences as never before.
Young people, you have the answers to Tiger Woods’s miserable failure. You are the future. You must make choices now. You have a fabulous opportunity that God wants to give you. You will teach, if you get your life right! This is your time to ask yourself, Who and what is teaching me? Am I going to be any help to anyone as I am?
Young people, determine now to examine yourself, your life, and your influences. Engage God and ask Him for wisdom in your choices. Be honest; ask yourself, Just who do I want teaching me?
Think on these issues, as they mean so much to your future. Remember that the seeds you sow now, whether good or bad, will bear fruit tomorrow! You will have to live with what you allowed to grow in your life.