When it comes to values, parents must ‘walk the walk’

Categories: Editorial

Survey finds moms and dads may be sending mixed signals to their children

By Joe Towalski

Is it more important for children to be successful or to be good?

Parents, of course, want their children to be successful in school and at other pursuits in life. But, even more important, is teaching children to be loving, caring individuals who do what’s right at home, in school and in their community.

A new survey, however, found that parents might be sending mixed messages to their children about priorities.

14valuesA Harvard researcher asked 10,000 middle- and high-school students in 33 U.S. schools what they thought their parents cared about the most. Some 80 percent picked high achievement or happiness; just 20 percent marked caring for others. The survey found a similar split regarding what the youth deem most important.

The research was the subject of a recent report on National Public Radio. One teen interviewed for the story said school achievement is what his parents “nag” him about, and reward him for, the most. Presumably, many of the youth who participated in the survey feel similarly.

While moms and dads might say these youth have it wrong — that as parents they do indeed believe it’s more important for their kids to be good people — that’s not the message many youth are internalizing, according to the researcher who published the study.

For Catholic parents, there also is an added factor not addressed by the survey: instilling Gospel values in their children and helping them to become true friends and disciples of Christ. Shouldn’t that be the most important value Catholic parents instill in their children so they not only lead lives of happiness and success but also lives of holiness and Christian service?

Taking responsibility

In the end, one should be cautious about putting too much stock in a single survey. But it does point to something very important: Parents must have their own priorities straight and not only “talk the talk” but also “walk the walk.” In other words, moms and dads have to set the right example for their children.

Parents can’t abdicate their teaching role to schools and faith formation programs, as good as they may be. They have to take an active role — teaching their children Catholic values of right and wrong, attending Mass together and prioritizing service as a family to the community, especially to the poor and most vulnerable.

This is the only way to ensure children are getting the right message about values and priorities. It’s a message parents convey not only by what they say, but also by what they do. Actions do indeed often speak louder than words.