It seems like everyone, educators and parents alike, is becoming concerned about our society?s children and their moral development. Newspapers are full of unnerving reports of children and youth committing crimes ranging from petty to outrageous atrocity. Magazines scream frightening statistics about young people involved in crimes and reckless behavior, and states are frantically passing laws requiring zero tolerance or even ?respect.? It?s a scary world to raise your children in! What can be done to raise children who are responsible and law-abiding citizens?
Building character begins at home. Knowledge of right and wrong (unfortunately) is not instinctive, but rather must be taught. If you think about the pieces of good character, such as honesty, responsibility, respect, and compassion, you will see that they are directly opposite of human nature. No wonder we as parents need to work so hard to instill morality! Babies are born self-centered. They naturally put their wants and needs first, and have no concept of other people?s needs and desires. As they grow, they need to be taught to think of others, be polite, and learn to see the world from another?s point of view. There are several ways to accomplish this goal, and all of them must be used to have the best chance of success.
First of all, there is direct instruction. Most of us do this part very well. Children are reprimanded for breaches of conduct and punished for lapses such as lying, disrespect, or rudeness. Perhaps less often do we remember to praise and reward honesty, respect, and politeness. We would do well to consider the teaching methods we are using...positive methods almost always train more effectively than negative! However, the most important point is that we parents be clear and consistent teachers. Be sure that you teach and enforce your standards equally and consistently at all times. Nothing will confuse your children more than unclear standards. They wonder, ?Why is it OK for people to be rude when just the family is around, but not OK in front of company?? or similar questions. Inconsistencies will give your children the idea that right and wrong are conditional and that they can be changed with the circumstances (or who is likely to see or get caught).
The second way that children learn about morality is through example. Children are very observant! They see and notice far more than many give them credit for. The parent who calls in sick to work, and then uses the day to catch up on the yard work shouldn?t be surprised to catch a child in an untruth. Families that use office supplies at home shouldn?t be surprised when the youngster comes home with an unpaid for item from the store, or something taken from a friend or relative?s house. On the other hand, children who see parents taking meals to shut-ins, volunteering their time for community service, or visiting neighbors are quite likely to imitate those behaviors when they grow up. Children who hear tactful honesty will learn to use it themselves. What kind of examples are we setting for the kids? Hopefully, you are doing things that you would be proud to have your children see and imitate. And don?t think for a moment that you can act one way when you think the kids are watching and differently when they are not...kids are wonderful detectives, and they see and overhear the darnedest things. Let them learn what you want them to from your examples.
Children also learn right from wrong from the examples that they see around them. Real live people outside of your family...friends, neighbors, relatives, teachers, and so forth are teaching your children every day. Consider what kinds of examples they are seeing besides yours. The media also provides very influential examples for behavior. Are your kids seeing hefty doses of honesty, integrity, respect, consideration and so forth in their viewing fare? Most parents are careful to screen out violent or adult themes, bad language and so forth, but some give little thought to what IS being viewed. Take time to talk with the kids about the music, movies, television shows and reading materials that they are selecting. Be aware of the balance of good and poor influences in their lives. If you find they are taking in more negative than positive, find ways to change the balance. You can do this by changing the things viewed, read, and heard, or you can view, read, and listen together and put your two cents worth into a discussion with your child. Knowing what your child is getting from the media is half the battle; be aware of what is happening in the homes of friends where your child spends time, as well, and keep the lines of communication open as much as possible.
Finally, research has shown that children?s moral development benefits from involvement with groups and institutions that have that as a focus of their program. Churches and other religious groups served this purpose for many, many years, but in the last generation or two have seen drops in attendance as people have more choices for commitments and social fulfillment. We parents would be wise to take a closer look...most ?mainline? religions strive to build a solid moral foundations. They reach out particularly to children and attempt to teach and model moral behavior. No matter what your religion, consider involving your child with one of these groups whose ideals match most closely with your own. You will find strong allies in the battle to teach right and wrong as well as a peer group with similar values. Other places to look for institutionalized values are groups such as Scouting, 4-H, the local Y, and Campfire. All of these organizations have a commitment to teaching young people right from wrong and helping children grow to meet their potential.
In the end, it is our commitment as parents to instilling values in our children that makes a difference. Our children will only become as morally strong as we teach them to be. It is not anyone?s responsibility but the parents?! We all need to do our parts to guide our young people into sound moral development...our society depends upon it!
Keywords: child children parenting parents behavior moral character development teaching values
About the Author
Sandy Fleming, Michigan
Sandy Fleming is a full-time mom of three, part-time tutor, workshop presenter, and freelance author
Visit her on the web at http://www.learningnook.com or sign up for the free newsletter at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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