The world needs, you will agree, good citizens. We have a lot of intelligent people, but perhaps not enough good people. Not enough people who are kind, tolerant, large-hearted, honest and caring. It is a challenge to every parent to bring up children with great values, but it is not an impossible task.
What they see, they do. What children see their parents do, they imitate. If they see their parents being honest, more often than not, they will also be honest. Kind parents bring up kind children. Racially tolerant parents bring up racially tolerant children. Of course, there may be exceptions, but more often than not, it is parental example that decides what kind of values children imbibe. Janet, a usually conscientious parent, learnt this the hard way. Once when a couple of unwelcome friends visited and rang the bell, Janet hid in her bedroom and told her 8-year-old daughter to tell the visitors that she was not home. The girl dutifully went to the door and told the visitors, “My mother asked me to tell you that she is not home.”
Should children be taught values explicitly? Yes, but not by means of boring lectures or preaching. One of the most effective ways of instilling values in very young children is to read to them simple stories and fables with moral values. There are any numbers of stories such as Aesop’s fables, and they teach such basic values such as selflessness, the need to save for a rainy day, and respect for those who are weaker than oneself. The story of the Ant and the Grasshopper, for example, shows the humble ant working hard during summer to save up for winter, only to be mocked by the carefree grasshopper. As winter comes, the wise ant is cozy and warm in his well-stocked home, while the grasshopper meets death by starvation. One would be hard-pressed to find a better fable to teach the importance of saving up for a rainy day.
Television, video games, movies, Facebook, Instagram and a host of other media rule the kids’ world in the 21st century. The good efforts of parents will come to no use if contradictory messages reach the child. Instagram feeds and advertisements of television that unabashedly perpetuate a consumerist and materialistic culture can easily drown more mellowed messages by parents and teachers about the value of things that cannot be bought such as love, compassion and the sacredness of family relationships. It is important, when kids are very young, to choose the programs and movies they watch, and to censor the video games they play. It is better to wait longer before introducing the mesmerizing world of the internet to them, along with social media.
All parents want their children to hang out with ‘the right kind’ of friends. The problem often is that parents do not even know who their kids’ friends are. Often, it is beyond parental control. All that parents may be able to do is to empower the child to understand the nature of good friendship and healthy relationships, so that he or she can make intelligent decisions. Children should be able to say ‘no’ and cut off the friendship, even if their hitherto best friend is offering them something like drugs, for example.
Many parents under-utilize this very important source of value education. Healthy and willing grandparents, with time on their hands and wisdom of experience, are in a position to lend a hand once in a while, during a vacation for example, to read good stories to children or to take them for a good movie. One of the most important values for kids to have, compassion and care for the old, will no doubt inculcated automatically when children spend time with their grandparents. In fact, having grandparents to lend a hand in child rearing is a tradition fast running out of practice. It will do well for our civilization to bring it back in vogue.
In an age when our society is more intelligent than kind, more knowledgeable than tolerant and more tech-savvy than caring, it is of paramount importance that future generations are firmly rooted in values that make us human. Parents are, without doubt, the most important agents in this value inculcation process.