Raising children to have decent values certainly isn’t easy for parents, especially in a society that sometimes seems short on values. And, though we all have values we want to pass on to our children, we worry that we won’t succeed. After all, we remember ourselves as teenagers, rejecting the values our parents so carefully sought to instill in us, insistent on finding our own way.
Studies show, however, that after that predictable period of adolescent rebellion, most of us end up with values that very closely resemble those of our parents. Parents have scant effect on their children’s natural temperaments or inborn strengths and weaknesses, nature, in so many ways, has it over nurture. Yet nurture takes the lead when it comes to the development of values. Sometimes consciously, sometimes not, parents can and do strongly influence the way their children treat themselves and others, and the attitudes their children take towards family, charity, honesty, work, environment and dozens of other moral issues.
Many parents instinctively do a pretty good job of passing on their values, much as their parents did, and their parents before them; good, solid values seem to run in families. Still, the following recommendations can help improve the odds that your children will one day value the values you value most.
- Know your own values. First, decide how far you want to depart from the chain of values that your parents forged when you were growing up. Do you want to add a few links, take away a few, or make more radical alterations in the chain? List the values you would like to pass on to your toddler – in their order of importance – and ask your spouse or partner to do the same. The possibilities are endless: family, health, integrity, religion, work, learning, courtesy, the environment, helping others, tolerance, good taste, political activism, the accumulation of money, of possessions. Then compare your list with your spouse’s. Are there areas of disagreement? Can you compromise on them? Once you’ve reached an accord, you’ll be better able to join forces in passing the chosen values on to your toddler.
- Live your values. As much as they want their children to live by certain values, parents sometimes find it difficult to live by them themselves. They want their offspring to be honest, but they fib about a child’s age so he or she can fly for free or get reduced movie or museum admissions. They’re determined than their children learn not to abuse their bodies, but they fail to show respect for their own bodies – by smoking cigarettes, living on junk food, failing to exercise. They preach tolerance to their children, but they practise close-mindedness in their dealings with those who are different.
- Articulate your values. Living your values is not enough. Help your children understand why you live them. Explain why you believe it’s better to be honest than to lie; what taking care of your body is important; why you do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
- Put teaching values in perspective. By building a framework of values for your toddler to follow, you’re heading him or her in the right direction. But realize that this is the best any parent can do. As children grow older, they add their own experiences and the lessons they’ve learned out in the world to what you’ve taught them at home, to come up with their own unique set of values. Just as you did.