How do we go about instilling the right values in our children?
Rashmita was in the kitchen getting dinner ready. Her two teenage children were chattering away with visiting friends. She was not paying much attention but her ears perked up when she realised they were talking about the latest scam. One of the boys was discussing the amount of money involved and it almost seemed that he was full of admiration for somebody who could actually make so much money, albeit dishonestly, and then get away with it! Rashmita held her breath as she waited for the response. Her daughter's voice rang out with complete conviction. “That is just so wrong at every level,” she said.
“Nothing can justify dishonesty and uncontrollable greed.” Rashmita felt her heart swell with pride — at least she had given her children a sense of right and wrong.
Goals for a parent
All parents want to do the best for their child. They will stint and scrounge on their own expenses so that they can provide their children with education and opportunities. If we think the child has potential in music or sports, we do everything in our means to help the child flourish and shine.
Are these goals enough? A child needs to be taught a strong set of values and needs reinforcement regularly to make the decision between right and wrong. Different children may have different talents but every child has the power to become a morally upright, decent human being. Therein lies the parent's responsibility.
What can we teach our children?
Conscience: Every child is born with an innate sense of right and wrong, and an inbuilt knowledge of what is fair. These sensibilities can either be sharpened or blunted as the child grows; a parent has the immense moral burden of passing on these values. We have to reinforce the concept of listening to the inner voice that tells us when we are crossing the line from acceptable to unacceptable behaviour.
Consequences: Does a child always know what the consequences of bad behaviour are? Though she might have an inkling that she might be indulging in bad behaviour, a young person may not readily understand the consequences. It behoves us to teach the child the penalty for actions taken in haste or in anger. Threats and physical punishment may not drive the lesson across as much as a calm discussion with the child, trying to understand what drove her to that action and to explain the moral consequences. This, of course, requires the parents to inherently have integrity and unshakeable principles.
In a restaurant, a group of parents have brought their children for a party. A few of the children are running amok, pulling down the Christmas decorations in the restaurant. When the manager tries to bring the children under control, one of the fathers says angrily, “I can pay for the damage, why are you making a fuss?” What a sad state of affairs! In one fell swoop, the parent has taught the children that they do not have any responsibility towards other people's property and that money can bail them out of any trouble. Parenting is an immeasurable responsibility that we cannot take lightly.
Character: This is a much bandied word but difficult to define. What is good character? What does being ethical mean in an era where morality is standing on shaky grounds? Character or ethics means being honest even when nobody's watching. We have to teach our children that being good and straightforward is not predicated on whether somebody is policing us but has to be our ‘default' behaviour.
We have to constantly reward the child when she exhibits good behaviour and gently turn her away from unacceptable conduct.
Choices: Ritika watched as a new classmate sat alone while everybody sat in groups during lunch break. She walked up to her and started talking to her. When she narrated this event to her mother, she said that she just felt it was unfair that anybody should feel so lonely and left out. Ritika has learnt to make the right choices. She was not intimidated by the herd mentality of her classmates but made the choice to befriend a newcomer.
Courage: Making the right moral choices requires courage. All choices may not be universally accepted and sometimes we may have to fly in the face of popular opinion to uphold what we consider right. We have to always let our children know that we will support them when they have chosen the unpopular but ethical path. This unconditional love and support will reinforce their beliefs and will instil the moral compass in them.
The author is an obstetrician and gynaecologist practising in Chennai and has written the book 'Passport to a Healthy Pregnancy'.