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Madoff, A-Rod, the famous-marrieds affair du jour, attempting to sell a senate seat. What a great time to use the news to teach your kids about VALUES!

What is a “value” anyway? Values are standards of actions and attitudes that shape who we are, how we live, and how we treat others.

A value increases as it is given away in the sense that the more given to others the more we get in return. Beauty or genius is not a value because it does not increase when it is given away or even can be given away.

Values make society livable and workable. Our job as parents is to pass them on to our children. Individual and collective happiness and well-being is connected to behavior governed by moral values. Children might learn on their own that people who lie won’t be trusted but there isn’t time to let our kids learn such things on a trial-and-error basis. Kids without values can do a lot of damage in society.

In general, children raised in a moral home become “good” people concerned about others. Parents must BE GOOD PEOPLE with solid values, must MODEL GOOD BEHAVIOR, and must TALK/TEACH about good behavior. It takes a long time to raise a moral person. Parents must start early; don’t wait for Sunday School.

There are specific values that we as parents must teach. For example HONESTY is important in a complex society. We teach about honesty by setting an example and rewarding honesty. We also provide a safe environment for our children to express themselves and “try out” truths and lies. We understand that developmentally-based preschool fantasies (“The dog did it!”) are not really lies. We explain “white lies” and DO use them in order to avoid hurting others. We play truth games (“The sky is green!”) with young children and discuss truth dilemmas we have experienced with older children.

We must specifically teach about other values like CARING ABOUT OTHERS (teach the Golden Rule), TOLERANCE (teach that diversity is healthy and ambiguity can be tolerated by thinking people), COURAGE (dare to not follow the crowd), PEACEFULNESS (understand the other’s point of view and control your temper), KINDNESS (best taught by example).

The most valuable thing I can say to parents about values is STAND BY YOUR OWN VALUES no matter what the world is doing.

This is not easy. Our children live in a world with an emphasis on sex, violence, instant gratification, consumerism, and disregard of the rules as long as you get away with it. As parents we encourage our children to become independent of us and make choices for themselves. But when we ask a preschooler what color tee do you want to wear, we never imagine one of those choices will be makeup at 10!

What also bothers me is that all the people giving parents advice–including me–have not been smart enough to sound the alarm. We haven’t figured out a way to help parents encourage autonomy, which is healthy, and keep their kids from growing up too fast, too consumeristic, too self-absorbed, too indifferent to others which all are definitely not all right.

Never has it been so important for parents to stand firm. At the same time our toxic culture makes the parent’s job of teaching values more difficult. It doesn’t take the brain of an Einstein to figure out that the people we value the least are apt to be rich and famous. Kids notice.

So talk with your children about what a Ponzi scheme does to the people who are cheated. Talk about the effects of a sports star lying to his fans. Talk about the kind of world we would have without laws and values. Encourage your kids to have empathy for the victim not admiration for the perpetrator.