Positive Parenting: Building Character in Young People


Philip St. Romaine

Publication Date:

May 2007

Catalog No:


..Chapter 1: What's Up?

I was waiting in the school board office to discuss a substance abuse prevention program with the superintendent when she walked in. She was young and frazzled, and it was easy to see why.

The four-year-old tugging at her sleeve, almost pulling her into the room, could have been a poster boy for attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder. He almost seemed a postmodern meltdown of media overload and genetic engineering gone awry -- part Mighty Morphin Power Ranger, part Attila the Hun.

He started ransacking the room as soon as he broke her grip (or was it the other way around?), karate-chopping invisible opponents along the way.

The toddler on her lap was whining and squirming to get down. She seemed inspired by her brother's commitment to chaos and struggled to join him in the fascinating task of pulling magazines off an end table and hurling them around the room.

When mom finally released her, the little girl bolted to her brother's side.

"Please, children!" mom implored, exasperated. "Do be good!" But both kids were suddenly deaf and blind -- and determined to Go For It. Maximum Impact.

Hardly pausing for breath, they tore through (literally) a year-old copy of Newsweek, transforming it into a pile of shredded paper and business-reply cards in the blink of an eye.

Finally, some invisible tripwire inside mom's mind snapped and she stormed across the room, whacking the rear of each child.

"How many times do I have to tell you to be good?" she sputtered. The four-year-old only stared defiantly as mom scooped up his sister, dragging her back to her chair, where she (the toddler, not the mom) wailed inconsolably.

Finally, the receptionist called me to my appointment and I left the room, grateful for the quiet and comforted by the thought that the ancient Newsweek might finally rest in peace or even be replaced by something more recent. Still, I wondered how the young mother would get through the day.

Later, I joined a high school principal and guidance counselor in meeting with a parent concerning his child's behavior, and heard a similar story.

"Can't do nothing to control that boy," the man complained. "We've tried everything from whippings to grounding him to cutting off his allowance. He still does just what he wants to do when he wants and to hell with the rest."

He shrugged. "Kids today just don't have the respect for parents they used to."

What's going on here?

During my years as a teacher, campus minister, substance abuse prevention consultant, and parent, I've heard similar comments from scores of adults. It's so commonplace an observation that it seems trite, even irrelevant.

But it isn't irrelevant.

Because the parent-child relationship is at the heart of who we are as individuals and plays a huge role in determining how we feel about ourselves and what we do with our lives.

Some adults simply throw up their hands.

The problem is so vast and touches on so many aspects of modern life -- broken homes and fragmented families, the corrosive influence of mass media, the ready availability of drugs and alcohol -- that they despair of ever finding a solution.

Others -- me, included -- aren't so sure. How is it, for example, that many poor mothers in underprivileged circumstances manage to instill self-discipline and worth into their kids while parents who seemingly have everything going for them wind up with spoiled, irresponsible brats?

And as my own daughters grew -- faster than I ever dreamed possible -- these issues became more important to me.

That's why I decided to write this booklet.

Because the more I've considered what works in helping kids develop positive traits of character, the more everything has seemed to revolve around a single key ingredient -- personal responsibility.

And the more I've looked at responsibility, the more I've come to see it as a two-way street, with parent and child bound up in an interdependent relationship that provides the ground of being for all relationships that follow in a child's life.

Parents are responsible for their children -- responsible for their welfare and well-being, responsible for communicating their own values and experiences, and generally showing a child the way things are in the world.

And children are responsible to parents -- responsible for accepting and appreciating their parents' (and society's) rules and regulations, responsible for learning to be a person.

What follows may not be the only way to be a person. But it's the best way I know.

Continue with Chapter 2: Chaos and Commitment
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This is one in a series of publications on drugs, behavior, and health published by Do It Now Foundation.
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