Shifting priorities: from responsibility to happiness-Part 1


        In this two-part series, I invite parents to think about a shift in priorities that parents have made during the last thirty years or so. Previous generations of parents emphasized character, whereas the current generation views feelings as being more important. This week we examine what it looks like to place character development first; next week we look at feelings.

        If you were raised by parents who lived through the Great Depression or World War II, the chances are great that they taught you many lessons concerning the responsibility that you had toward others. You probably were taught to:

  • respect your elders; you called your friendsí parents "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" rather than "Bob and Shirley;"
  • use appropriate manners for various occasions; you liberally said "please" and "thank you;"
  • choose your wardrobe appropriately for the occasion or place you went; you had school clothes, play clothes, and dress-up clothes for a variety of occasions;
  • place a higher value on giving than on receiving.

        Additionally, you were taught to defer your gratification. If you wanted material objects, you saved your allowance or worked for the things you wanted.

        Most importantly, you didnít ask about what you would receive if you did what you were expected to do. Your parents led you to understand that these behaviors were necessary so that everyone could live together civilly.

        You may not have understood what your parents were trying to teach you. But they held steadfast and tried to impress upon you that you would understand and appreciate the lessons when you were older. And when you grew up, you realized that, by and large, they were right.

        But something happened when these responsible children grew up and had their own children. When they asserted their authority, they buckled under to their childrenís displeasure at not getting what they wanted.

        It was disturbing to them to see their children unhappy. They convinced themselves that if the children were happy, they would be happy, too. Thus, the focus shifted away from character development and in favor of their happiness.

        Next week: what happens when parents put happiness before responsibility.

This column has been incorporated and expanded in Teach Your Children Well: A Teacherís  Advice for Parents.

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