7/18/97 Building strong families is Bill Mitchell's passion

by Terri Lackey , posted Friday, July 18, 1997 (21 years ago)

RIDGECREST, N.C.(BP)--As a child, Bill Mitchell yearned for a happy family life.

His parents divorced when he was a baby, his mother then married a military man and his grandmother raised him.

"I grew up in a federal housing project, and I know what poverty is all about. I had a terrible inferiority complex, and all I wanted was a happy home life and family," Mitchell told participants in a "Building Strong Families" conference at Ridgecrest (N.C.) Baptist Conference Center. The conference was held during Discipleship and Family Leadership Week, July 5-11.

"When I was a young adult I would pray every day for a good marriage, family and children," Mitchell said. "That was the greatest goal I've ever had in my life." These days, Mitchell prays for the strength and stability of all families. He travels the nation giving advice and encouragement for strengthening families.

During his 30-year career as a schoolteacher, coach, principal and superintendent of schools, Mitchell said he witnessed the disintegration of the family.

"For 30 consecutive years the home has been disintegrating, and I was watching the result in the public school system."

Mitchell offered the group startling statistics about young people today. He said every 30 minutes:

-- 29 young people attempt to take their own life;

-- 28 will run away from home;

-- 56 teenage girls are giving birth to illegitimate children;

-- 88 girls under age 19 have abortions;

-- 752 teenagers experience serious drinking problems; and

-- 2,700 young children become addicted to drugs.

Mitchell said he decided he couldn't watch any longer as the family became a social and cultural casualty.

Mitchell, who had previously collaborated with the late Norman Vincent Peale on a resource to help educators give positive messages to students, decided to apply biblical principles to a motivational program for the family.

He put the strategy into a resource for parenting and based it on the Bible passage, Proverbs 22:6: "Train a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not turn from it" (NIV).

"The key lies not in just teaching our children or providing their basic needs, but in training them. Training is about reinforcing behaviors until they become automatic or habits," Mitchell said.

He describes the home as the hub of a four-spoked training ground which includes schools, churches, businesses and communities.

Parents are primarily responsible for training their children, according to Mitchell. The only way the cycle of divorce and abuse will be broken in America is to gradually build strong families, he emphasized.

"Building a strong family is a deliberate process. You have to work every day to make it happen. You don't just wish for it."

Mitchell listed five training tools he regularly used in coaching that he said can be used in building strong families. They are:

1) Team building -- "You have to work at team building; you don't have to work at disintegration." He suggested establishing routines for eating together as a family, worshiping together, completing chores and errands together and taking vacations together.

2) Climate of home -- "This is the second most important factor in a child's learning. The home must have a climate of nurture, care and love."

3) Conditioning -- "Place into the human mind repeatedly a thought until it becomes a habit. Tell your child he is special and appreciated, and do it repeatedly."

4) Modeling -- "Every adult that comes into contact with a child is a potential role model. Kids and people emulate you."

5) Positive reinforcement -- "Catch people doing the right things and praise them for it. That just makes them want to continue the behavior. Punishment might temporally stop a behavior, but it won't finish it."

Strong families are lasting; they have what it takes to stick together through all kinds of circumstances and crises, Mitchell said. They have what he calls the five C's:

-- Centered on God: "God must be at the center of the family at all times and in all circumstances."

-- Caring: "Being present for your family. That means spending time with them, listening to them, doing things with them, rejoicing when they rejoice and feeling sad when they are sad."

-- Connection: "When a parent cares for a child, a connection or bond is forged."

-- Communication: "An abundance of communication is essential for building strong families. It should be shown with spontaneity, lots of questions and answers, careful listening, positive words and a goal to resolve arguments."

-- Commitment: "Strong families don't happen by accident. Parents must choose to keep motivated."

Mitchell said parents can take two important steps in training their child to display the right attitudes, behaviors and values.

"They first must link experiences and rules to beliefs and values. Explain to a child why you believe certain things or place great importance on certain values and habits."

Second, Mitchell said, parents must be consistent over time.

"When Christian parents give their children good habits, they are on their way to building strong families."

"Building Strong Families" resources, produced by the BSSB's discipleship and family development division, include a leader kit (book, leader's guide, videotape, and audiotape); "Peace in the Family" home activity book; "Self Control in the Family" home activity book; "Winning in the Land of Giants" workbook for youth; and "Discover the Winning Edge" book for college students.

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