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7 surprisingly countercultural parenting tips that work

By Marcia Segelstein 5 min read

“It takes a village to raise a child,” so goes the African proverb. But what if that village, including schools, peers, media and the culture at large, goes strongly and blatantly against your principles?

In her newly released book, Don’t Let the Culture Raise your Kids, journalist Marcia Segelstein gives parents a highly researched and in-depth look at today’s culture. She describes how it undermines parental influence and challenges traditional family values. More importantly, she offers excellent solutions, tips and tools for parents who are fighting to protect their children from gender ideology, social media and gaming addiction, sex-ed in schools, pornography and consumerism. Marcia shares some of her research findings and advice.

1. Be a parent

The biggest issue facing today’s parents is the current culture of parenting. Modern parents are encouraged to affirm their children, to avoid correcting them, to act like their friends. Put simply, parents (with exceptions, of course) have stopped behaving like parents, abdicating their role as authority figures. This is a problem because children desperately need their parents to be authority figures. Authoritative (as opposed to authoritarian or permissive) parents are the ones who provide rules and set standards for their children in a nurturing, responsive way.

Children raised by authoritative parents have the best outcomes on a wide range of measures. There’s nothing new about children needing their parents to be authority figures, to take charge of raising them, to guide them through the world. But two things have changed which makes the need for authoritative parents even greater today: The culture itself has become decidedly corrupt (think about current cultural views on sex, for example) and, thanks to technology, our corrupt culture is both pervasive and easily accessible to children.

2. Say no. Often

From the beginning parents shouldn’t be afraid to say “no” to their children—whether it’s to keep a child away from a hot stove (that kind of “no” comes naturally) or to stop a toddler from biting her baby brother—and continuing throughout childhood.

Parents should think in advance how they’ll discipline their children when they disobey. If parents realise they’ve been lax in this area, it’s never too late to start. Make rules that are age-appropriate and clear, telling rather than asking children to follow them.

Assign chores: they not only teach responsibility, they keep children connected to their families. Make eating family meals together a priority. They provide a sense of cohesion and give parents an opportunity to share their values.

A huge issue when it comes to influence, especially for older children, is technology. Mobile phones, tablets and computers have made instantaneous communication with peers not only possible, but part and parcel of being a kid. As a result, peer influence plays a much larger role in their lives and dilutes parental influence.

The contemporary culture of Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube and other social media sites promotes what one expert calls the “premature transfer of allegiance to same-age peers”. To maintain influence—and for their children’s health and safety—parents should know what their children do online, including on social media sites, and set limits on screen time.

3. Go against what their school teaches

Understanding that Christian values aren’t going to be taught in public schools, parents should make an effort to do that themselves by talking about their faith, praying together and establishing faith traditions in the home. Know what’s going on in your children’s classrooms. When lessons or textbooks run contrary to Christian teaching, use them as teachable moments.

Be open and frank with your children’s teachers each year about the importance of your faith, what you believe and what you see as potential problem areas. Find like-minded parents so that you can support each other should controversies arise. There’s strength in numbers!

4. Don't give your child a phone

Mobile phones are detrimental in a few ways. They enable (and pressure) kids to be in constant contact with each other. That allows for both increased peer pressure and peer influence. Also, with mobile phones always at hand, it’s difficult for kids to get away from the world, difficult not to be distracted, difficult to distinguish between what truly matters and what doesn’t.

And, perhaps most obviously, many of the negative influences the world has to offer (think pornography, sexting, online bullying) reach kids through their mobile phones. There is evidence that teens who spend more time on screens are more likely to be unhappy. Psychologist Jean Twenge cites studies finding a correlation between time spent online and mental health problems, specifically depression.

The experts I spoke with and whose research I read recommend a few things when it comes to giving your child a mobile phone:

  • Start with “dumb” phones that don’t connect to the internet, and stick with them for as long as possible.
  • Since parents are the ones footing the bills, they should make it clear that having a mobile phone is a privilege, not a right.
  • From the beginning, insist on knowing passwords and logins, and reserve the right to monitor children’s phones (and other devices).
  • Don’t allow mobile phones at the dinner table and keep them out of children’s bedrooms, especially at night.

5. Involve your child in church

Research conducted by Mark Regnerus, a sociology professor, found that the more involved adolescents are in their churches, the more they believe in what those churches (and their parents) teach about abstinence from sex until marriage. “Religious plausibility structures” are essentially networks of like-minded friends, family and authority figures who reinforce parental values.

It gets back to the issue of influence. The more that kids are primarily influenced by their parents and others who are like-minded (as opposed to peers and the rest of the world), the more likely it is that they’ll embrace their values.

6. Don't buy your children stuff

For my chapter on consumerism I drew a lot from psychologist and educator, Dr Thomas Lickona’s books and interviews. He has some great suggestions on this topic:

  • Talk with children about what truly makes us happy in the long-term: relationships, taking pride in hard work, being kind and helpful, for example.
  • Point out once-cherished toys and gadgets that are now long forgotten.
  • One father found that volunteering with his teenage son in a soup kitchen helped curb his constant requests for “stuff”.
  • Encourage gratitude by going around the dinner table every night for a quick round of “gratefuls”, where everyone names something they’re grateful for that day.
  • Make it a family policy that no comparisons to others are allowed. Dr Thomas even suggests posting a sign on the fridge that reads: NO COMPARISONS. Teach kids that comparing ourselves (or our “stuff”) to others makes us unhappy, and that there will always be someone who has more than we do.

7. Find your village

Remember that you’re not alone, so don’t go it alone. Seek out like-minded parents at church or your children’s school. In the book I tell the story of a mother and father who, when their teenage daughter became a challenge, arranged a meeting with the parents of her five closest friends. One meeting led to regular meetings of what became by their own description “an amazingly effective parent support group”. The group opened up channels of communication among the families, helping parents resist unreasonable demands from their daughters, and helping the girls resist peer pressure from others.

If we want our children to follow us instead of the culture, we need them to listen to us and to trust us, so that ours are the values they embrace, and ours are the voices they heed. Remembering that children need both love and limits—parents should be authoritative and confident in providing both.


This article first appeared on Mercatornet.

Marcia Segelstein has covered family issues for more than 25 years as a producer for CBS News and as a writer for the likes of FoxNews.com, Touchstone and WORLD magazine. Marcia Segelstein’s latest book is called Don’t Let the Culture Raise your Kids.