Positive Parenting: Building Character in Young People


Philip St. Romaine

Publication Date:

May 2007

Catalog No:


..Chapter 2: Chaos and Commitment

Still, before we even try to tackle the principles of responsible parenting, we really should consider the observation made by the frustrated father in the high school principal's office.

There's an important lesson there:

"Kids today just don't have the respect for parents they used to," he said.

Is that true? Maybe. But even though many would agree that he's right, it's useful to consider why he's right and what we can do about it.

Some commentators have suggested that today's youth are somehow genetically or biologically inferior to kids from a couple of generations ago.

As evidence, they argue that drug use among young adults in the 1960's, '70s, '80s and '90s -- now parents of today's kids -- had a real impact on the quality of inheritable characteristics these parents passed on to their children. If pot-smoking rhesus monkeys have a higher percentage of hyperactive young, they conclude, pot-smoking people probably do, too.

There's another philosophical camp out there, too, and they see things a little differently.

They're more likely to view the father's statement through a matrix of cultural, rather than biological, filters.

They echo the sentiments of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich or ex-Education Secretary William Bennett, who believe that the problem really started with the personal-liberation movements of the 1960s and '70s.

They argue that such causes -- the women's liberation and the gay-rights movements are favorite examples -- unleashed a devaluing of traditional social norms concerning sex, drug abuse, and other core values, including the role and primacy of the family in charting a child's moral development.

Others blame the media for saturating our culture -- and our homes -- with a steady stream of violence, hypersexuality, and cynicism. And they're right; the power of the media in today's world can't be underestimated or overstated.

Still, while there's certainly something to be said for each of the above theories, they all have one thing in common: They don't really focus on the positive, proactive things that each of us can do to help our kids build character and ease their transition into adulthood.

Maybe it's time to put these theories aside -- at least, for the time being -- and focus instead on fixing what's broken: in our families and in ourselves.

To do that, it's useful to make an old-fashioned commitment to a simple proposition that's both new and old, logical and intuitive, framed as much in the Chaos theory of modern physics as in the ancient faith of believers everywhere: that what each of us does affects everyone else in some way.

Viewed from this perspective, it's easier to see that family life really does matter, and helps determine the values and norms of society as much as culture and society shapes the content and form of our external lives.

If we affirm this simple truth and act upon it, we can be assured that -- regardless of how things came to be the way they are -- society really will change as we change and as our family life changes.

And what we do to build character in our children will, like ripples in a pond, eventually affect the world as a whole.

Continue with Chapter 3: Profiles in Character
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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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