As parents watch their children grow there is a gnawing worry that the values and beliefs they hold will not be valued by the younger generation. All parents want their children to eventually cherish specific values and beliefs that are accepted and necessary for them to be productive and happy.
Parents of the past felt that values were so important that parents "imposed" them on the younger generation. But, in a free society, using teaching methods that are "heavy handed" didn't work. But the belief that values "just happen" if parents provide children with facts and ideas didn't work either. Working hard to teach children how to make "informed" decisions was tried in the 60's and we now know that this approach turned parent and teacher exchanges with children into "bull sessions" where opinions went back and forth but conclusions were never reached. This approach resulted in drug education programs in which drugs were scarcely mentioned except to say that taking them was a personal choice. For children it has meant wholesale confusion about moral values. Values they were taught at home were challenged and the question of right and wrong was seen as merely subjective.
We now know that values and beliefs are not based on intellectual thinking but are based on commitments to certain principles of behavior. Given this fact it is important for parents to provide a solid base for children to build on. How can this be done? Here are some suggestions:
1. Do not underestimate the tried and the true. When we as parents do not value what our culture has passed on to us we actually steal from out children. The gift of the wisdom of the past can keep them safe until they are old enough to build their own value system. Let your children know that it is wiser and safer to hold on to traditional values then to question without a base to question from.
2. State often the values and beliefs you hold. My great grandma use to say, "Anyone that will lie will steal. Anyone that will steal will kill." My dad use to say, "If you don't control your temper it will control you." My grandma use to say, "There is good in everyone. You just have to look for it." My uncle use to say, "Your actions speak so loud I can't hear what you say." Simple statements of belief or wisdom are remembered. Do not forget the power of this fact. You may not feel your children are listening but they do look to you for standards and beliefs. They may not always live them, but by knowing what you believe they have a base to return to when they are ready.
3. Visit the school often. Make sure that your child is held accountable for their behavior. Assure that character education is important to the school. Values should not be forced, but values such as honesty, kindness, respect for authority, and respect for the feelings and rights of others should be stated and seen as important. Support the school but do not support a valueless curriculum. There is no such entity. A curriculum that claims to teach no values is teaching that “no values” is to be valued.
4. If you set standards or rules in your home, do not deviate from them without some pretty good reasons. One father established a rule in his home. If his teenager was not home when they said they would be, he told them he would be looking for them. His children were angry and felt he did not trust them but that never stopped him. He was a man of character. If they were to be home at 11:00 pm he would be where they were supposed to be at 11:05 pm. Because of his consistency they knew he would be looking for them one night when, in a snow storm, they went into the ditch. They knew he lived by the standards he set for himself. He was a person of character and they could count on him to be true to the beliefs and standards he set for himself.
5. Your children's behavior should not affect your values. If you believe in being respectful and kind, you should not allow your children's immaturity and mistakes to control you in a manner that causes your to deviate from that value. Another's lack of character should not be an excuse for unprincipled behavior.
6. Don't apologize for your beliefs. If you believe that men are respectful of women and open doors for them. State and practice this belief. It is not a crime to respect women in this manner even if someone else believes differently. Help your children understand that when others believe differently than they do, it does not mean the other person is right. We live in America and can believe as we want to as long as we are respectful of others and do not physically harm them.
7. Respect for the law and authority is important. Help your children learn to be submissive to established authority. This begins with helping your children learn to follow you as the parent and leader of the family. Let them know you would never harm them or ask them to do something illegal. You would never lead selfishly but rather with concern and love for them.
8. Read and cherish the stories or myths that have been told for ages. Read about "George Washington and the Cherry Tree." Read about the "Boy Who Cried Wolf." Read about "The Little Train Who Thought He Could." These stories form a base for the beliefs that are the foundation for a strong character.
Character education is important. We need to teach our children the importance of honesty, responsibility, kindness, truthfulness, etc. We must not apologize for strong beliefs of right and wrong. We must guard against forcing our beliefs but we must never shrink form explaining and declaring our beliefs so that our children will have a basis on which to confront the smorgasbord system they will encounter in the world outside.