Talking with your child about “values” can be very useful to your child’s learning and maturing as a responsible human. You can help your child explore and learn how to make decisions that are constructive, useful, positive. These range from momentary decisions to decisions that could cause your child to be vulnerable to illness, as well as participating in societal decisions.

These decisions are usually not between good and bad, because most decisions are in very gray areas between those extremes. Actually, few decisions are good or bad. Most of our moral decisions are finding which options are better and less better or worse. Often we decide between shades of better or worse, in which no decision is “good” but some are less hurtful than others. Or some are more worthy or productive than others. Frequently decisions oscillate between personal worth and the worth of a group — our friends, a social network, or our work group. Some decisions carry little long term effect while others could affect our future lives.

In our conversation with our child we can stretch his mind and help her explore implications and advantages and disadvantages of particular decisions and situations and also help each child develop their own framework for being a moral person. School work, books, films, and television programs can provide decision situations you can explore with your child.

Some decisions are caused by pressures from peers or from our culture. Adolescent girls may feel they need to emphasize what they think is sexy. Many pressures come from film and television, so watch with your children. If a father sincerely talks about what he wanted in the daughter's mother, it may influence the daughter. Feel free to talk honestly and openly with both daughters and sons at all stages of maturing and facing different pressures and desires. Using skills from communicating and listening, parents can significantly affect their children's developing values.

The framework for working on those decisions can be religious or philosophical. It can be from Christian groups, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, existential, or many other labeled frameworks.

For example, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a brilliant Lutheran theologian with a great future who was a visiting professor in New York City the summer of 1939. He was urged by friends who had fled Hitler to remain in America. He said, no, he must return because he was German. He helped form an underground seminary, then joined with such people as Gen. Rommel in an underground planning to kill Hitler. Bonhoeffer as a theologian and a civilian could travel easily, so he became a courier, carrying vital information in his memory between those in the underground. He was imprisoned by the Gestapo and on a short list of those who must be hung, which he was just before allied troops liberated his prison. He was a vital part of an attempt to kill Hitler. Morally that clearly violates one of the ten commandments, but in that situation was it “good?”

Copyright © 2005 John F. Yeaman