057 Do children pick up their parents’ values?

What if children do not pick up values from parents?

Parents hope that children will pick up values from them. Story-telling is the most commonly used way to teach children values. Almost every child I know learn the value of honesty from the fable of “The Boy who Cried Wolf”. And that is not all. Parents preach even more by borrowing anecdotes, religious dictums and moral stories. All these well-intentioned efforts are carried out in the hope that good values will be drummed into children as they are growing up.

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However, by the time children become adolescent, preaching ceases to work. Sometimes, it even backfires. As children grow older, they become more susceptible to outside influences such as friends and the Internet. The reason is children rather trust their own sources of information, than to listen to their parents. They have had enough of being told.

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Some friends told me that their attempts to make a dialogue with their adolescent children now painfully resembles making a monologue. Children shrug, roll their eyes and reply “whatever” in a nonchalant or impatient tone.  A friend said she even resorted to text-messaging her teenage daughter at home.

The only option left, it seems, is for parents to walk the talk themselves, and hinge on the hope that things will turn out well somehow. But one worry lingers: What if children do not pick up values to protect themselves when they grow up.

Values protect children from harm’s way

A friend KW told me his story,

“Our paths diverged after secondary two. You were the serious-and-hardworking type who went to the top class and got into top schools. And I was the happy-go-lucky chap who later got into big-time trouble for gang involvement. I had to find my way back after many twists and turns.”

He explained, 

“Our difference was you held strong values even as a teenager. No one could persuade you to do what you think otherwise. As for me, I never wanted to do anything bad. I was seeking recognition and acceptance, which were absent at home and in school. Then I got it from the wrong people and place. Before I knew it, things just went too far…”

KW and I in those days of innocence at secondary one.

We were in the same school, and came from similar family backgrounds. I could never imagine that a person as affable as KW could go astray. His story was a stern reminder that values protect children from harm’s way. With strong values, children learn to discern negative influences and know the parameters of unacceptable behaviour.

KW has come a long way. He is now successful both at work and at home.  I admire KW’s tenacity, and above all, touched by his affection for his daughter. He said, “Every night, no matter how tired I get, I will make time to listen and chat with my teenage daughter. Even my wife is jealous.” He said with a grin.

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His family even provides foster care for at-risk children from vulnerable families.  I respect and understand what KW is trying to do: to guide and protect more children by inculcating values.

Is your method of imparting values working?

For some time, I was quietly concerned that my preaching methods were not working. My 13 year-old boy Conan has strong views of his own. And he did not shy from showing his annoyance of being told. On several occasions, I flared up and reprimanded him fiercely.

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One day, after I apologised for my out-of-proportion reaction, Conan told me candidly the effect it had on him,

“I have learnt that arguing head-on wouldn’t work. Showing displeasure also doesn’t work. It will just escalate the tension. So I have learnt to pretend to agree with you and get over with it quickly.”

Embarrassed by his revelation, I made it clear to him,

“ You know that I am totally alright with you having different views.  I have never scolded you for any audacious ideas. You know, I will just laugh along with you. That’s what guys do.

So far, things like getting good school grades and making school choices, you have it your way. But my bottom line is this: Don’t be rude to your parents. When it concerns character-building, there is no compromise.”

As parents, we owe our children an explanation of our bottom-line. But inside me, I knew that I had to fix the ways I communicate values quickly.

Give Children Time

After several months of trial and error, I was pleasantly surprised to receive a text message from Conan one day. He wrote,

“In case you are wondering what I have been doing in the last 15 mins, here is what I have written.”

I was moved by the connection we share. I had the same fear when I was at his age. As I continued to read on:

I was smiling from ear to ear.

Children do pick up values from their parents as long as we never cease to try. Just be patient to give them time to think through by themselves.

Thank you, Conan!

William W K Tan