There are few things in life that a Christian parent hopes for more than to pass on to their children the same principles and character values they live by.
Character doesn’t just appear when teenagers mature. It comes from the experiences they have in life and from observing those around them, especially their parents. While physical traits are passed through genes, character traits are not. And neither are they taught…they are most often “caught.”
So, if we want our children to be compassionate, we need to model that by volunteering at the homeless shelter or giving money to the poor. If we want them to be truthful, then we need to always tell the truth ourselves. If we want them to be respectful, then we must show respect to them and to our own parents.
If you’re a parent, you’ve got to be the one out front leading the charge. If an important character value is lacking in your family, like that of respect, start with the only person you can readily change — yourself. Look for the cause and effect of your own example affecting your teenager’s lack of respect. Jesus taught us to make sure we remove the log in our own eye before we attempt to remove a speck in someone else’s (Matthew 7:3). Begin by asking, “How am I showing disrespect to you or to others? Is there some way you feel I am disrespecting you?” Remember, kids watch what we do far more than they listen to what we say.
Dr. James MacDonald recently told me the character values he’s tried to teach in his own home. They include:
To Love God… Start at the beginning with God, who made you, knows you, and loves you. Without loving God with all your heart, no matter what else happens in life, nothing will be right. If you have that part right, everything else in your life, even if it is wrong, will be all right.
To Put Family First… That means family comes before friends. Family ideas hold more importance than the opinions of others. And your family values are the point of reference for how you will behave in all relationships.
To Work Hard… Dr. MacDonald says his mother set a good example. She raised a great family, ran a great home, and often encouraged her children to work hard for what they wanted. It taught the whole family the value of working hard.
To Always Tell the Truth… There is blessing, freedom, and power, and health in relationships when everyone can trust each other. God said He is truth, and He loves truth. Like any family, you can count on truth-telling to be tested, but it is the overriding value for how handling any situation.
To Be Kind… Showing kindness brings favor; it brings blessings. When there is a fork in the relational road, it is better to choose the road that is paved with kindness. And if you are always going to tell someone the truth, then be sure to be kind about it.
Dr. Tim Kimmel also wrote about teaching kids character in his book, Grace-Based Parenting. He lists six most character traits he deems most important: Faith, Integrity, Poise, Disciplines, Endurance, and Courage.
MacDonald and Kimmel offer us some good examples of key character traits to prime the pump and get you started, but yours may be different. Think about what traits you are trying to teach your family. Limit your list to just a few, and be sure you are living them yourself before you try to teach them. Then begin talking about them at every opportunity. Tell stories and do the kinds of activities with your family that will strengthen these traits. That’s how real character is passed along.
Christ didn’t live and die just to offer us salvation. He came to teach us character through demonstrating a lifestyle that pleases God. It is through His example that we can learn how to live, even if we’ve had really bad parents on this earth. There’s no excuse for parents not to be a good example of strong character to their children. It doesn’t mean we’ll always be perfect, for parents are human and we all make mistakes, but we need to be ready to ask forgiveness for our mistakes and set things straight when we’ve blown it. That’s an important character trait for children to learn as well.
–Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, national radio host, and the founder of Heartlight, a residential counseling opportunity for struggling adolescents, where he lives with 50 high schoolers. Learn more at www.heartlightministries.org.