Morals have gotten a bad rep over the years. Puritans have used “morality” to make judgments on people’s sexuality, culture, and lifestyle. They used “family values” to describe judging innocents for getting divorced or listening to music with foul language. In doing this, the words “morals” and “family values” became perverted. Then, the very idea of having morals or family values became associated with young women sporting rings promising abstinence before marriage and often hypocritical men telling everyone else how to live.
That’s not what I’m talking about. I don’t care with whom you sleep or if using the F word is therapeutic for you. Scream that sh– from the rooftops, and you could still be a good person in my book. Instead, this is about teaching our kids to do the right thing even when it’s hard. It’s about how we treat each other on a daily basis and what it means to be a good citizen. This is the kind of stuff we used to learn by the time we were 5 and 6 years olds. Somehow, we’ve lost our way. Maybe we just need this reminder:
Thou shalt not tell a lie. No one spends much time talking to their kids about Honest Abe or George Washington and the cherry tree. Whether that story is history or fable, it teaches the lesson of honesty. Today’s politicians are hardly helping the case. Clearly, Hollywood’s finest can’t be trusted with teaching people to be honest.
So, it’s up to parents to call out their kids when they’re lying. In addition, grown-ups have to be honest themselves. You have no choice but to be the role model for your kid. No one else is taking on the job.
Frankly, this should be no problem for modern parents. There’s so much talk of being proud of your “genuine self.” If you want your kids to live their unique truth, then you should teach them to be honest all over the place.
Life is hard, and it will only keep getting harder. We have an obligation to teach our children kindness. After all, that is the way to overcome the inevitable hardships they will face moving forward. This means that you should monitor your kids’ social media activity to ensure they are not bullying anyone.
Talk to them about how they interact with their peers. Remind them to respect their elders by saying, “Please,” and “Thank you,” when appropriate. If they misbehave, don’t let them get away with it. Explain why they were wrong. Of course, follow through with consequences.
Teaching kindness will help your child better understand empathy, which is key to leadership. Like all the other suggestions on this list, kindness is essential to improving the outlook of the world’s future.
Take a good look in the mirror. If you call your spouse names or scream at your kid all the time or simply ignore those in pain, you are a role model for mean girls (and boys). Stop. Smile. Just be nice. It’s that simple.
Love Thy Neighbor
Kindness is all about treating people – whoever they are, from wherever they come, whatever they look like – with dignity and respect. Kindness could mean saying, “Hello,” when you see someone you know. It could be about taking the time to avoid hurting someone’s feelings and containing emotions, such as anger and jealousy.
Loving thy neighbor is more than that. This is about taking action. Check up on the elderly person next door during the snow storm. Call your friend who is having a hard time. Sit with your mother at your father’s bedside. This kind of love is about your family but also your community, the people you don’t know as well but live and work with you. If you see suffering, extend your hand. Clothe the naked. Feed the hungry. Do right by someone in need. You’ll never regret it.
Recently, cheating has been in the news. As a writer, I have covered a number of cases involving people cheating on exams and stealing the work of others and passing it off as their own. Back when I was in high school 20 years ago, I saw this kind of stuff on a regular basis. Even back then, I knew it was wrong and never did it.
There is a fine line people have to walk between being competitive and wanting to win at any cost. Cheating is problematic for a number of reasons. For starters, it blows the idea of teaching honesty right out of the water. It is inherently dishonest to cheat. Also, people who cheat to get ahead actually cheat themselves the most. After all, your achievement is fake and you know it, even if no one else does.
Most importantly, cheating teaches kids to take shortcuts. They never learn the value of working hard themselves to arrive at a certain goal. In addition, they never experience failure, which teaches resilience and makes adulting a lot easier. Tell your kids to just say no to cheating.
Avoid Greed and Jealousy
This is one of the toughest to execute. For one, everyone is trying to keep up with the Joneses. It’s really hard to avoid that trap. After all, you want to provide your kids with everything you didn’t have and more. Frankly, nothing is cheap anymore. So, it becomes even more of a vicious cycle.
The way to get around this is to constantly remind yourself that material wealth is not the equivalent of providing your child with a good life. Sure, you need money to survive and live decently. But you don’t need to seek riches or buy your kid an iPhone at 3 years old or even 13 years old. That’s why saying no is a must. Also, you have to teach children they cannot have everything they want.
When the green-eyed monster rears its ugly head, you must talk to your child about his or her insecurities. What prompted this reaction? How do you control jealousy? If they never learn this lesson, it will destroy them. To help alleviate jealousy, you can work on building your child’s confidence. It’s no easy task, but helping them find their talents, recognizing their best characteristics, and loving them for who they are will all help.
Teach your children about those who have less. Help them learn to share with others. This could be done by teaching them to allow other children to play with their favorite toys or having them join you in donating food to a shelter, for example.
Certainly, every parent – including me – will stumble along the way. Don’t worry about it. Just correct yourself and move on. What’s important is to aim to teach these morals to your children from the youngest age. Keep trying and we will undoubtedly create a brighter, kinder future.
Di Meglio is the author of Fun with the Family New Jersey (Globe Pequot Press, 2012). She also has written the Our Paesani column for ItaliansRus.com since 2003. You can follow the Italian Mamma on Facebook or Twitter @ItalianMamma10.