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What can I do to help my child to develop good values and to learn right from wrong?

We want our children to develop respect and compassion for others. We want them to be honest, decent and thoughtful — to stand up for their principles, to cooperate with others and to act responsibly. We want them to make sound moral choices. The payoffs for encouraging a child’s values are enormous: those who grow up with strong, consistent and positive values are happier, do better in school and are more likely to contribute to society.

  • Talk to your children about good values and why they matter. Just as children need to be guided academically, so too must they be educated in the values of a civil society–values like love your neighbor; give an honest day’s work for an honest day’s wages; tell the truth and be honest; respect others, respect their property and respect their opinions; and take responsibility for your decisions.

In word and deed, parents play an important role in helping their children develop a good sense of right from wrong and good from bad.

Many of the major threats to our children today are not a matter of chance, but are a matter of choice �choices like drinking and driving, smoking, drugs, sex, and dropping out of school.

The research tells us that young people who engage in one risky behavior are more likely to participate in others, so parents should help their children understand the potential risks and consequences of their choices–not just for the immediate future but for their lifetime as well.

Fortunately, most children share the values of their parents about the most important things. Your priorities and principles and your example of good behavior can teach young teens to take the high road when other roads look tempting. Here are some ways that you can help your child to develop good values:


  • If you stick with a challenging job, your child will be more inclined to finish homework and chores.
  • When you volunteer at a food kitchen, your child will be more likely to have compassion for others who are less fortunate.
  • When you accept a loss on the basketball court graciously, your child can learn that winning isn’t everything.
  • If your child sees his parents treat each other with respect, he is more likely to follow this example in dating and into marriage.
  • When your daughter senses that her parents appreciate people of all colors and creeds, she is likely to become more open to friends of all races and backgrounds.
  • When you tell a sales clerk that she gave you change for a ten-dollar bill and not a five, your child sees honesty in action.
  • When your child see his parents make tough choices–“We’re buying a used car so that we can save more money for a vacation”–he picks up the cues.
  • If you accept disappointments as a part of life–if you pick yourself up and keep going–your child stands a better chance of becoming a survivor.
  • If you can laugh at your own mistakes, your child is more likely to accept his own imperfections.
  • When you say “no” to alcohol before heading out on the highway, your child takes note.

The way that you view money and material goods can also mold your child’s attitudes. If you see your self-worth and the worth of others in terms of cars, homes, furniture, nice clothes and other possessions, your child is more likely to develop these attitudes as well. It is equally important to meet your child’s needs but to guide him to set them apart from his wants. The expensive leather jacket that he has to have may be OK–if you can afford it.

Giving your child an allowance is one good way to help her understand the value of money. But you must decide how much the allowance will be, taking into account your resources, your child’s age and what expenses the allowance will cover (lunches, clothes, church donations, entertainment or whatever). An allowance can help your young teen learn how to save and how to use money wisely.

Naturally, parents want to disclose information and provide guidance that is consistent with their values and religious beliefs. We know from child development experts that parents are often better at providing information about the facts of life than they are at talking about what matters more: their values concerning sexuality. To make good decisions, young teens need to have accurate information about “the birds and the bees” that takes into consideration strong values.

Parents often find it easier to teach their children values when they rely on their friends and other parents for support and guidance. Many parents also draw support from their churches, synagogues, mosques or other religious institutions.

At some point in their adolescent�rearing efforts, many parents find themselves disappointed and frustrated. (“I can’t believe my kid did something so dumb and insensitive. What did I do wrong?”) Generally, there is no reason to panic if your child sometimes behaves in a way that differs from your standards–as long as he doesn’t do it regularly. Bad behavior needs to be recognized and dealt with. But we would all do well to remember our own adolescence–most of us turned out OK.

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