Parents hope their offspring will pick up values from them and story-telling is the most common way to teach children values.
Almost every child I know learns the value of honesty from the fable, The Boy who Cried Wolf. This isn’t all, parents also pass on the message of positive values by sharing anecdotes, religious sayings and moral stories. They carry out all these well-intentioned efforts in the hope that good values will be instilled in their children as they are growing up.
However, by the time children become adolescents, 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 would rather trust their own sources of information than listen to their parents as they have had enough of being told what is good for them.
“Values protect children from harm. With strong values, children learn to discern negative influences and know the parameters of unacceptable behaviour.”
Some friends told me that their attempts to communicate with their adolescent children now painfully resemble a monologue. Children shrug, roll their eyes and reply “whatever” in a nonchalant or impatient tone. A friend said she has even resorted to text-messaging her teenage daughter at home.
The only option left, it seems, is that parents have to keep on walking the talk themselves and hope that things will turn out well somehow. But one worry lingers: What if our children don’t pick up values that’ll protect them when they grow up?
My friend KW told me his story, “Our paths diverged after Secondary 2. You were the serious and hardworking type who went to the top class and got into the top schools. 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 otherwise. As for me, I never wanted to do anything bad, but I was seeking recognition and acceptance, which were absent at home and in school. Then I got it from the wrong people and places. Before I knew it, things just went too far…”
We came from similar family backgrounds and were in the same school. I could never have imagined that a person as affable as KW would go astray. His story is a stern reminder that values protect children from harm. 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 his tenacity, and above all, am 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.
His family even provides foster care for at-risk children from vulnerable families. I understand and respect what KW is trying to do ― to guide and protect more children by inculcating values.
Does your method of imparting values work?
For some time, I’ve been quietly concerned that my “preaching” methods aren’t working. My 13-year-old boy Conan has strong views of his own, nor did he shy from showing his annoyance when I told him what to do. On several occasions, I flared up and reprimanded him fiercely.
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 it over with quickly.”
Embarrassed by his revelation, I made it clear to him, “You know that I am totally all right 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.”
Give your 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 minutes, here is what I have written.”
I’ve always wondered about life after death;
what lies beyond the great barrier of eternal peace,
The divide between the living and the dead,
The existing and the gone,
The ones who live on and the ones who passed on,
I get really paranoid for I cannot comprehend not existing.
As such, I seek refuge in the comforts of Christianity,
knowing and believing that the Lord will guide me.
In His hands, I put my trust
Knowing that my soul will never turn to dust.
But as I wondered, so I feared;
That this is all a lie
The Lord and his followers, all a disguise
For the fear of death that plagues all humanity.
My son had written his first poem for me ― I was moved by the connection we share. I had the same fear when I was at his age. It continued like this:
Then I wondered about something I hold dear
Something my father told me, the previous years
A quote from a book that went something like this:
Tibetan Monks believe in eternal bliss.
The body is a set of clothes, prone to wear and tear
But the soul is free-flowing, just like the air
When the clothes get old,
Death is just a way to change them,
So why to thee clothes do you hold?
Strip them off and plunge into the cold.
For while these clothes have been for long,
It’s time to move on, to sing a better song.
I was smiling from ear to ear as Conan had remembered our conversation from a year ago. Quoting from the highly-acclaimed Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, I had told my family,
“Here is an interesting thing that the Dalai Lama said, ‘Death is synonymous with changing clothes. When clothes become old, then it’s time to change them. When our body becomes old, it’s also time to change it to a new body. No wonder the Tibetans have no fear of death.”
This lighthearted metaphor of death offered much comfort to my boy. Moreover, Conan’s poem gives me hope that children do pick up values from their parents as long as we never cease trying. Just be patient and give them time to think things through on their own.
Thank you, Conan!
William W K Tan, 47, an educational consultant and blogger, is dad to Conan, 13.
Photo: William W K Tan
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