Raising Children of Character

Adapted from Chapter 2  of Professor Thomas Lickona’s  famous book :  Character Matters

How to Help Our Children Develop Good Judgment, Integrity, and Other Essential Virtues (Simon & Schuster, 2004)

 

RAISING CHILDREN OF CHARACTER

What used to happen to 10th-graders is now routine among 8th-graders. Trouble with the law.  Promiscuity.  Pregnancy.  Parties with alcohol and without adults in attendance.  Drugs.       —A middle-school counselor


 Parents are powerful people.  The worst mistake they can make is to underestimate their influence.   —A rabbi

A mother whose daughter attends a private high school recounted a conversation she had with another mother whose daughter attends a different private school.  The second mother said, “We’re so relieved about the prom.  The dance is at the hotel, the parties afterwards are at the hotel, and the kids all have rooms at the hotel for the night.”

The first mother swallowed hard and said, “But don’t you realize the signal that sends to kids—what it gives them permission to do?”  

 The second mother sighed and said, “Well, at least they’re not drinking and driving.”

 In reporting this exchange the first mother commented: “We draw a line, and then we cross that.  We draw another line, and then we cross that.  Pretty soon we’ve compromised our standards to the point of disappearing.”

Parenting, including the moral standards we teach and uphold, has a profound impact on our children’s moral development and behavior.   When we do not set high standards, we abandon our kids to their immature desires and the negative pressures of the peer group and culture. 

Our parenting affects every area of our children’s growth, including their ability to learn and to do the disciplined work of school.  In their 1992 book America’s Smallest School: The Family, educators Paul Barton and Richard Coley predicted the failure of school reform if it ignored a basic fact: The family is the cradle of learning.  They pointed out that student achievement improves when there are two parents in the home; when children are well cared for and feel secure; when the family environment is intellectually stimulating; when parents encourage self-regulation and perseverance; and when they limit TV, monitor homework, and ensure regular school attendance.


In these vital areas, however, growing numbers of families are not meeting children’s needs.  In general, children today arrive at school less ready to learn.  The psychologist Robert Evans observes that at the very time teachers face mounting pressures to increase student achievement, they have to cope with the decline of things they used to take for granted: students’ attention, respect for authority, rudimentary social skills, and willingness to work.


 In all kinds of families, including affluent and intact families,  parents are spending less time with their children, providing less guidance, and setting fewer limits. 

Despite the fact that heavy television viewing increases children’s aggression and lowers academic performance, parents allow their children to devote more time to television than to school and homework combined.  Three-quarters of 6th-graders have TVs in their bedrooms.

Even the most competent and conscientious parents often struggle to get through the week and are beset by feelings of failure.  Parenting is inherently hard work.  We get our training on the job.  The job is harder than ever because the family has fewer allies (such as the extended family and cohesive neighborhoods) and more enemies (such as a toxic media culture, other parents who are permissive, and an economy that doesn’t pay a living wage).  Because families are more stressed than ever, and because there are many more negative forces in our children’s lives, parents need to be more intentional than in past generations about creating a family life and more vigilant about raising a moral child. 

Good character will not be absorbed from our current moral environment.  What are practical principles of parenting that can guide us in the demanding but rewarding work of raising children of character?

 

Read More about the practical principles here,  and download other Prof Lickona’s articles.

http://www2.cortland.edu/centers/character/resources/articles.dot

 

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Character–the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life is the source from which self-respect springs. ~ Joan Didion