Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Why Is Our Influence So Small?

Kyle Townes
Thursday, September 7th 2023
The words "love always protects" on a deep blue background with school supplies.

What influences our children’s lives the most? As Christian parents we would all like the answer to be that we are the main influence in our children’s lives. We know that is how it should be. Parents are the source from which children ought to be learning their values, beliefs, and Christian faith.

However, that isn’t actually the case in many American families these days. Why? Because the is is not always the ought. Children ought to be learning their values, beliefs, and truth from the right people, but in reality, children learn these things from whoever spends the most time in their lives—whichever voice is the most prevalent. If the majority of people around them are teaching similar concepts, then eventually the child will believe those concepts. The mode of teaching may vary—it could be overt and in person or covert and online—but if the messaging is consistent, the child will eventually believe it.

One silly example comes from my own life. I homeschool my kids, so they are around me or my husband all the time. One day, my husband got the idea that he would tell our kids that buffaloes have wings, as a joke. The kids looked skeptical when he first made his claim. But then he pointed out Buffalo Wild Wings as proof, with their logo of a flying buffalo proudly displayed out front. “See?” he said, “There is proof that buffaloes have wings.” Our kids looked totally confused. They asked questions but he countered each question with phony explanations that were logically consistent, but false. The older ones looked to me for a response. I laughed. I rolled my eyes, but only the older kids noticed. My husband stuck to his story with great gusto, and my older kids looked to me for my response each time he started in on the tale, so they could gauge whether or not they should believe him. Each time, in spite of my original response, they had a little doubt (my oldest was probably eight at the time), and it took me countering his claim every single time by an “oh brother” look or nodding my head “no”, for them to finally become confident that it was not true. My youngest child didn’t notice these subtle cues, however. All she noticed was what Daddy said. Over time, she grew to believe that buffaloes really did have wings. After all, Daddy said it, and he said it fairly regularly. She had heard the message repeatedly over time, from someone who had majority time with her.

Children are susceptible to all types of messaging because they are learning what to believe about the world and about themselves. They’re seeking knowledge about how to act and how to think. That knowledge comes from whatever they’re hearing, listening to, or engaging with. If a child spends hours a day on their phone, they’re susceptible to the messaging they receive via the internet. Even when the message is clearly dangerous, evil, or contrary to their human nature, a child can be led to believe in it and follow it. Children are extremely malleable in their thoughts and beliefs, and this malleability requires parental discipleship in every aspect of their life so that they form beliefs in what is true, right, and good, which is to say that parental discipleship is needed to ensure that children’s surroundings are changing them in the right ways.

It reminds me of a movie I saw in my early childhood called “L’Enfant Sauvage” (or “The Wild Child”). It was a French movie filmed around 1970 about a child who lived his whole life until the age of 11 or 12 deep in a forest, without ever having human contact. He had learned much, but only from animals. The child ran around on all fours, completely naked, lapping up water like a dog, and grunting. He had learned to disbelieve in his obvious humanity. He was completely and utterly changed by what he saw around him. In the same way, our children can be completely and utterly changed by what they hear and see around them. The issue at hand is, what are our children seeing and hearing?

The average American child ages 8–12 spends an average of five hours and thirty-three minutes on screens per day, and children ages 13–18 spend an average of eight hours and thirty-nine minutes on a screen every day. Now factor in school time, which is on average six hours per day. This means that for children ages 13–18, fourteen hours and thirty-nine minutes per day on average are spent not engaging actively with their parents, at a bare minimum. I’ve noticed a child in our own neighborhood who is picked up at 6:30 a.m. every day and dropped off around 5:30 p.m. It’s likely this isn’t an isolated situation and that many kids who ride the bus are gone for similar lengths of time.

The average teenager, therefore, is spending sixteen or more hours a day away from her parents’ voices and hearing instead the voices of those around her and from her devices. This leaves very little time in the day to hear the truth and to be strengthened in her faith by her parents. Is it any surprise then that we are seeing certain behaviors and mindsets in Christian children which are contrary to the Christian faith and the beliefs of their parents?

Adults are susceptible as well to what they see and hear. That’s why $287.13 billion was invested into media advertising in 2022, a number which has only gone up steadily every year prior and is predicted to continue to do so. So it’s startling when we think about how children are even more susceptible to influences! One of many interesting studies is that funded by The Jacobs Foundation (owned by Hershey, the chocolate company, oddly enough) and The Wellcome Trust, which demonstrated the susceptibility of children to have their opinions changed even when that opinion is clearly false, solely based on the way in which their social environment is behaving. The groups observed in the study were ages 8–11, 12–14, 15–18, and 19–25, with the last group being the only ones who stood firm in their beliefs when challenged by social pressures. The conclusion of the study states, “…Relative to adults, children and adolescents are particularly susceptible to being influenced by others,” noting that all children are more likely than adults to change their behaviors or decisions based on social influence. Obviously we don’t need a study to tell us this. It is out there for us to see clearly for ourselves.

In the first area of influence, we have schools. Schools have a large impact on children for the obvious reason that a child can spend upwards of half their waking hours there. Many schools have gotten bolder and bolder when it comes to their openness about their agenda to indoctrinate. The intention is not to provide children an objective education and leave the belief systems up to the parents, but rather to teach children every aspect of what they should believe in life, as if those children are their children.

Even twenty-eight years ago schools were demonstrating a belief that it was their responsibility to parent the students. I remember being taught things like how to check for lice and how to brush my teeth. Later I was taught that science excluded the possibility of a Creator. The school had decided which beliefs the students ought to have and have been teaching accordingly ever since. This philosophy of the American education system has come more to the forefront of conversations recently, since this mentality has furthered the social ideologies and sexualities of popular culture by introducing these concepts in the classroom environment. The agenda to teach LGBTQ+ ideology in schools is a major hot topic right now and is polarizing much of America. One problem we are seeing is that money is often dangled quite openly in front of schools if they will agree to integrate these teachings into their curriculum and school environment.

The CDC announced in 2022 that they have been, and will continue to, disperse money in the form of grants to schools which agree to support the LGBTQ+ agenda with certain programs. They have a budget of $85 million, with each school being offered anywhere from $12,000 to $350,000 if they agree to implement their agenda more openly. Saint Paul was right when he said, “For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil” (1 Tim. 6:10). People are all too willing to sell their souls for a little money! Policy and curriculums in schools also help cement these ideologies in children’s minds so that even if a school is unwilling to take a grant, they will be subjected to these belief systems in other ways. The government has realized the power held within those six hours a day that they have with children, and they have wielded that power with great skill and purpose.

Also crucial is the time a child spends outside of school. What are they doing with their time? A child’s brain does not turn off when they exit the school building, like a computer shutting down for the day. Children are constantly learning how to think, how to speak, and what to believe. They are nonstop, insatiable little sponges and there is no “off” button attached to them. Though a pause button, if not a stop button, would have been a really nice addition in my opinion.

The second area then of major influence is social media. The average American child’s environment is increasingly online on social media, so this is a particularly important influence to discuss. The European Parliament published a study called “The Influence of Social Media on the Development of Children and Young People” in February 2023. I find this study interesting because it looks at a variety of countries and finds the commonalities among children in these various environments. Even with a completely secular outlook, this extensive study warned of the many risks to children’s beliefs and lives through the time they spend engaging in social media. “Children are routinely exposed to harmful online content on social media platforms such as cyberhate, sexualized content, gory or violent images, content that promotes eating disorders, and disinformation.” This means that what children witness online is impacting them dramatically, to the point of promoting changes in their behaviors and beliefs about themselves. The study goes on to explain that the “popularity of platforms such as YouTube, TikTok, Instagram and Snapchat amongst children and teenagers is confirmed worldwide (Vogels et al., 2022) and in the EU, nearly all adolescents aged 15 to 16 use social media daily (Smahel et al., 2020).”

Children all over Europe (and we know this is true in America as well) are being raised on the values, concepts, and information transmitted to them from their online activities. This really is like The Wild Child situation—being raised solely on outside environmental factors rather than by direct parental contact. This obsession with the internet affects children tremendously—thus the widespread concern shared by the secular world as well.

We have children taking the most insane challenges imaginable just because they are being encouraged to do so on TikTok, YouTube, or other social media platforms. Simply watching other children or adults participate in these challenges encourages other children enough to participate themselves. These challenges can sometimes cause permanent damage to their bodies, or even death, and are always risky. Usually, the parents are unaware of what is going on until their child has seen, learned all about, and then tried these risky behaviors. This is not from a lack of desire or love, but rather from being unable to be involved. Devices are meant for the usage of one person in most cases, and usually a parent is not standing over a child while the child uses their devices. Many children have been given their own devices by their parents, and this has led to a strange kind of mature autonomy and a huge amount of responsibility for children in a way unprecedented in prior generations. We see children being encouraged towards all sorts of half-naked clothing trends, aggressive attitudes, and increasingly bizarre sexualities via social media and entertainment in general, and they are not only being encouraged towards these things, they are increasingly following these influences (and “influencers”, as the popular among them are often called).

The third area of major influence is our culture. Borne on the wings of schools and social media, rapid transformations are occurring in basic understandings of what it means to be human. Transgenderism has become an ideology that encourages children to discover or even choose their sex on a pseudo-scientific spectrum of possibilities. Kids are seeing transitions and transgenderism in a solely positive light all over websites, YouTube videos, TikTok accounts and Instagram, from popular music and pop stars, movies, TV shows, and on TV commercials. Time magazine wrote, “Transgender representation in advertising has come a long way over the decades since subtle, queer-coded messaging first began popping up 40 years ago and when marketers described it as ‘our little secret’ in the 1990s.” Yes, it has come a long way and is fulfilling its original intent which was to desensitize people to perversity, and to teach specifically the youth to accept this perverse behavior as normal and good.

There are (and have always been) people—including Christians—who suffer with gender dysphoria and same-sex attraction. Like other effects of the fall, the physical and spiritual aspects are intertwined. They require us to be better informed about God’s truth through common grace as well as through Scripture. Christian families and churches should not treat sheep like wolves. However, transgenderism has become an ideology actively recruiting young converts. It is much more in your face now than it ever was before, and therefore in your children’s faces, and it is having its desired impact. It is changing our children’s hearts and minds. Reuters published in October 2022 that there has been a “surge” of children diagnosed with transgenderism (“gender dysphoria”). The number of children ages 6–17 diagnosed with gender dysphoria was 15,172 in 2017 and it has risen to 42,160 in 2021. That is an increase of almost three times as many children in only four years. A Gallup poll shows that almost 20% of Generation Z children (born 1997–2012) identify on the LGBTQ+ spectrum, versus 2.7% of Baby Boomers (born 1946–1964). This massive increase over the generations is not due to chance. It is because the children are being conditioned to accept and even celebrate these things.

A whistle blower named Jamie Reed spoke out recently. She worked with transitioning children at the Washington University Pediatric Transgender Center at St. Louis Children’s Hospital for four years. She left the hospital after becoming convinced that this was a social contagion issue at heart, and that harm was being done to children instead of good. Jamie Reed is no Christian conservative right-wing politician either. She is married to a transgender person and has a past history of very openly supporting transgenderism. She signed an affidavit in which she said, “When I first started in 2018, the Center would receive between 5 and 10 calls a month. By the time I left, that number was more than 40 calls a month. Social media is at least partly responsible for this large increase in children seeking gender transition treatment from the Center. Many children themselves would say that they learned of their gender identities from TikTok.” She goes on to say that children came to the Center convinced of other things by their peers and/or the internet as well. They would come claiming to have Tourette Syndrome or multiple personality disorder, or even in one case, being blind…. Yet they did not have any of these diseases or disabilities. “Doctors at the Center would ignore and dismiss as social contagion the claims about the tics and multiple personalities; but then those doctors would uncritically accept the children’s statements about gender identity and place these children on puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones.” This means that doctors recognized the reality and pervasiveness of children being influenced by their social interactions to such a degree that it caused these children to believe in physical ailments that were not real. These doctors, then, have recognized that children are vulnerable and impacted by their environments to a substantial degree. The people mutilating children are recognizing that. Why aren’t so many Christian parents?

It is so important that we look at the evidence before us—that children are incredibly easily influenced—and we need to act accordingly as Christian parents. God has designed children to be this way for good reason: so that they can learn his Word and to walk in his ways, and so that they can be easily taught about language, life skills, personal interactions, and self-discipline, all of which they will carry into adulthood. In the right hands, this malleability is used to great good.

Children are not only capable of being off the internet but thrive being off the internet. They learn how to interact with their own environment and to read. They can work on life skills and entertain themselves creatively. Children are extremely creative naturally and we allow that God-given gift to grow and thrive when we allow them to interact with the real world and not just screens. We are told to “be wise as serpents, and as innocent as doves” (Matt. 10:16). That is in regard to how we live and how we interact with others. Raising children wisely and carefully, paying attention to how they spend their time and what they are learning about, is a lofty and worthy goal.

However, in the wrong hands, it is proven to be used to great destruction. Dictatorships and corrupt governments have seen the importance of gaining control of the youth, and have historically focused on targeting them for that exact reason. These governments always take the child away from their parents for large chunks of the day. This is because a child who is taken away from his parents for enough hours per day will nine times out of ten not end up with the same beliefs as his parents in most ways. Others can get to them. Others can change them. We see now with transgenderism, that children can even be convinced that reality is not real, and that things are true which are contrary to all facts and real-life evidence right before their very eyes. This is not because the message is based on fact or especially convincing, but just because they see it repeatedly, and are told it is good, right, and normal. (Buffaloes have wings!) And over time (not much time usually), they learn to believe it. Proverbs was right when it stated, “A child left to himself brings shame to his mother” (Prov. 29:15).

If you are like me, it feels like a heavy weight to hear we can’t leave our children to themselves. It is particularly when we feel this burden that we need to direct our thoughts to the cross. I think of how Christ picked up the cross for us, and how he encouraged us to pick up our cross and follow him (Luke 9:23, Luke 14:27, Matt. 16:24-25). When we are scared or we feel we are too weak, he hears our cries. He asks us to come to him with all our weaknesses, doubts, and failings and to ask him for the help that only he can give. He doesn’t give us a burden too heavy to bear, he says. He promises that his yoke is easy and his burden is light. How can that be, if the weight of it feels like too much? If I must guide my children minute by minute, if I must be around them constantly, how will I stand it? Won’t I go crazy? Perhaps it is all tied together: the instruction to not worry about tomorrow and to take one day at a time, the command to call on him in trouble and to pour our hearts out to him, and the promise that our burden is light.

It makes a tremendous difference when our children see us putting Christ in the center of our daily lives, and living not according to the world’s standards and priorities but according to the freedom we are given in Christ to follow him. When we teach our children “the fear of the Lord [which] is the beginning of wisdom” (Prov. 9:10), we set them on a path to recognize the good, the beautiful, and the true in their own lives as they grow older.

Perhaps in doing these things we’ll find that raising our children isn’t too heavy a burden to bear and that we can actually raise our children up in the faith only because he is walking along with us, giving us the strength minute by minute and the forgiveness we need each time we fall. Sometimes he doesn’t just walk with us; he carries us—as he does our children.

I received a gift from my parents this past summer—a hand carved statue made of wood from Oberammergau, where they went to watch the Passion Play. The carving is of Jesus carrying a lamb over his shoulders. He hugs the lamb tightly against the back of his neck and has grabbed hold of its feet on either side of his shoulders. The lamb has an expression of rest, not tension. Jesus has tilted his head slightly in love against the lamb’s neck. I am reminded that Jesus does the same for me and for you every single day. He picks us up and carries us along. Even so, we struggle with our sinful nature in this world and there is no place where that struggle looks starker to us than when we parent. We see how bad we truly are right up close, and we see our need for Christ so clearly. I remind myself often of what Christ told Saint Paul when he asked Jesus to take away the thorn in his flesh: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). Yes, we are weak, and we can rejoice that he uses even that for good, showing us his strength and love towards us in that weakness.

Saint Paul writes about what love is in 1 Corinthians 13. He begins with “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud, it is not rude.” The list continues and comes to a place where it says “It [love] always protects.” Indeed, love does always protect. As God always and every day protects us, so we love our children and do our best to protect them every day as well.


Photo of Kyle Townes
Kyle Townes
Kyle Townes is a LCMS member and homeschool mom of five little girls. She is married to Richard Townes, a warrant officer in the US Army. She graduated summa cum laude from the Catholic University of America, and is a prior middle school teacher and current homeschool conference speaker. She has written articles for the National Right to Life, the Baptist Standard and Live Action News. She writes a blog that can be found at
Thursday, September 7th 2023

“Modern Reformation has championed confessional Reformation theology in an anti-confessional and anti-theological age.”

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