COMMENTARY: Teaching Our Children to Be Better Than Us

Do parents have moral standing to impose standards on their children that they themselves did not follow when they were kids? Is it ever ethical for parents to lie

to a child about their youthful experiences?

These are important questions because it’s a parent’s duty to teach, enforce, advocate and model good behavior for their kids. Sure, it’d be easier if we never did anything we’re uncomfortable being honest about, but judgment and responsibilities grow as we mature. Good parenting would be impossible if we were disqualified from setting and demanding high standards of prudent and ethical behavior no matter how foolish we were as youngsters. Our duty to be a good model concerns the present, not the past.

The tougher question is about being honest about past conduct. As many listeners pointed out, depending on the setting of a confession and the age of the child, discovery of a parent’s moral shortcomings could be highly disturbing, even traumatic and, yes, some children will use our past mistakes as an excuse for their own.

These are horrible risks, but I believe successful parenting requires a deep and unshakable trust and an open and honest relationship. In relationships of trust, every lie or deception becomes a buried landmine.

Rather than lie, I would set limits on the things I’m willing to talk about. At the same time, from an early age I’ve tried to create realistic expectations by being open about my deficiencies, making it clear I never was, and still am not, all I want to be. I hope my kids have no illusions. They should know I made and learned from lots of mistakes.

I’ve never wanted my children to think I’m better than I am, but I do want them to know I’m struggling to be better than I was.

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.


Comments 6

  1. I really believe that best teacher of the our children are the parents.The prime school of education is at home.
    Most of the hours in a day the children are with their parents esp. the toddlers.
    As early as their young age or their formative years they should be taught. I don’t believe it is the formal actual schooling has a great responsibility in molding the young minds to be responsible in respective life ; but rather this can be accounted for where they come from, what family they are from, what is the culture of the family.
    The behavior of the young-minds is always reflected how their parents brought them up. Inculcation of values, morals, and social norms expectation starts at home. The school only plays the secondary role in educating the young.

    1. I believe what you say is true, Lydia. Parents are the first and most important teachers. However, I also believe that it takes a village to raise a child. If for some reason parents where not able to be good role models and a young child is aggressive or depressed or otherwise not a happy, respectful person, we must never give up.

  2. I agree with what you are saying Michael. I think that the answer to this is to model good behavior as an adult. Our children are shaped by what they see us do, especially what we do when there isn’t a lot of time to think about it first. It makes sense to avoid talking about your own behavior that you do not wish to have the children model on.

  3. I hundred percent agree with you. “House is the first school, mother is the first teacher and those children who get value base education from their parents are highly blessed”

  4. You are right. I agree with you hundred percent. There is a famous saying ” House is the first school, mother is the first teacher, those children who get value base education from the parents are highly blessed”

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