Adina Soclof, MS, CCC-SLP
I hear so many complaints from parents about their kids. Parents are particularly concerned that their kids seem to be without a moral compass. They don't know right from wrong. It is true, kids do not seem to espouse the same values that we do. But that is all part of the learning process. We all know that kids, and more so teens need to test limits and rules to help them figure out what the rules really are and whether or not they need to stay within them. It is the same thing with our value system. They want to know what our values are and the only way to truly find out is to test them. You cannot have a set of beliefs or principles if you have not thought about them or fought for them. You sometimes have to be bad in order to know how to be good. So when kids act in a way that goes against our basic value system, they are essentially thinking: If I hit my sister will Mom get mad? Is peace a value in our home? If I lie will my Dad notice? Is honesty a value in my home? If I don't show up to help out at our school fundraiser, will my parents have a problem with that? Is responsibility a value in my home? Kids don't want you to talk the talk, but not walk the walk. They want to see you living and espousing your values. The best way for parents to teach their kids their value system is by role modeling. If we want our kids to be peaceful and kind to each other, they need to see us being kind to our kids, spouses, and our own parents and siblings. If we want our kids to be honest we need to be honest ourselves. So that means, when our kids answer the phone when Aunt Ethel calls, we cannot tell them to lie and say we are not home. If we want our kids to be responsible we need to act responsibly ourselves and keep the commitments that we make. We also want to let our kids know our value systems in a non-confrontational way. Oftentimes we admonish and lecture our kids when we see any type of breach in their moral conduct. We will say, "You are always breaking the rules around here! Don't you know that rules are important? How dare you come in after curfew!" "Why do you always have to tease your sister. You have no compassion. You won't get by in this world without knowing how to treat other people nicely!" "You are so irresponsible. You told Sara you would help her with her homework. She called here 3 times trying to find out where you were. How could you let her down like that!" Instead we want to say: "I believe that rules about curfew need to be taken seriously." "I believe that we need to speak to each other respectfully in our home." "I believe that commitments need to be honored." Then you need to leave it alone. Give it time to sink in. The less parents talk the more thinking children have to do. They have more time to contemplate what their own conscious is telling them about what they have down wrong. This way they won't spend their time thinking: “How much longer is she going to go on and on about this? “Why does she care about this stuff so much?” “When will she stop talking so I can go to my room and get some peace and quiet?” They are more likely to think: "I feel so bad about what I did to Sara, I better call her and apologize." Teaching kids our values, takes patience and role modeling. It also helps to state your principles in a non-confrontational way so that your child can let his conscience do the thinking for him. It takes a lot of self-control and forethought but it is the best way to teach your kids your values, morals and belief systems. “Kids these days don’t know right from wrong!” “Kids these days have no values!” Most parents feel it is their job to impart their values, morals and belief systems to their children. As a Jewish parent, there is an even stronger push to transmit our heritage to our kids. It is a Mitzvah that we hold dear. I know that this is one of my primary goals in life. I certainly expend a lot of my time, money and efforts in this area. Because I and other Jewish parents feel so strongly about this, we come down hard on our kids when we think they have breached any of our standards of conduct. It is as if an alarm goes off in our head, which causes us to start admonishing our kids and we sit them down for a lengthy lecture aka Mussar shmooze. Most kids don’t like it when their parents admonish them. But they really find the lecturing, boring and condescending. So what can we do instead? How can we impart our values to our kids in a respectful manner? How can we actually get them to listen to what we are saying? In many of my classes I teach all about the “I” statement. The "I" statement can be used to stop ourselves from nagging and accusing and to engage our kids cooperation. The advantages of “I” statements don’t stop there. “I” statements can also be used to teach our children about our beliefs, ethics and moral standards in a non-confrontational way. If we give a mussar shmooze we might say: "You know you need to listen and do the Mitzvah of Kibud Av Veem. The Torah gives us lots of rules for a reason. You need to listen to your parents for your own good etch. etc. etc. "How come you did not do your homework right away! Don't you know that you should not procrastinate. Procrastinating is a bad midah. Don't get started with that! Instead we want to try stating our beliefs and values in a non-confrontational manner using "I" statements: "I believe that rules of Kibud Av Veem help our home run smoothly." "I believe that homework should be done in a timely fashion." Then you need to leave it alone. Give it time to sink in. The less parents talk the more thinking children have to do. When we lecture and give mussar, kids don’t have time to mull over what they have done wrong, they can’t hear their moral conscience. So instead of thinking to themselves: "I should have listened to my parents. I shouldn't have done what I did. Next time I will try to do better." “I am so embarrassed about this grade. I should have done my homework. Next time I will do it on time.” Kids think: “How much longer is she going to go on and on about this? “Why does she care about this stuff so much?” “When will she stop talking so I can go play?” When we talk about ourselves and what we believe in we make a big impression on our kids. They hear our viewpoints clearly and succinctly. These simple "I" statements seems benign, but they pack a big punch. We need to remember that nobody likes to be coerced into thinking, feeling or acting in a certain way. If we talk about what we hold dear in a non-confrontational manner, kids can hear us without feeling that they have to defend themselves or be pushed into an opinion that they might not share. Having a good relationship with our kids is probably the best way to ensure that our kids incorporate our value systems as their own. Using "I" statements is one great way to nurture our relationships with our kids. Then you need to leave it alone. Give it time to sink in. The less parents talk the more thinking children have to do. When we lecture and admonish, kids don’t have time to mull over what they have done wrong, they can’t hear their moral conscience. So instead of thinking to themselves: “I am so embarrassed about this grade. I should have done my homework. Next time I will do it on time.” Kids think: “How much longer is she going to go on and on about this? “Why does she care about this stuff so much?” “When will she stop talking so I can go play?” After my 16 years of being a parent, I see that parenting is done best when you keep quiet. When you don’t say all the things you want to say. It takes a lot of self-control but it is the best way to teach your kids your values, morals and belief systems. As a Jewish parent, I also feel a need to transmit my children's heritage to them.