As any parent knows, a child’s environment can shape his or her worldview and value system every bit as strong as lessons and rules around the house. That is to say, no matter what you do or say as a parent, your child is still going to pick up a great deal of things outside of the house – at school, on vacations, hanging out with friends, etc. So how can you go about teaching strong value systems when you’re not necessarily there to offer input?
A lot of it has to do with the situations you put your child in. And naturally, that begins with school. This isn’t just where your child will learn in a strictly academic sense, but also where he or she will pick up social behaviors and to some extent personal values. It’s ultimately for these reasons that a lot of parents look into private high school options for their children, if they can afford it – not because the values of a private school are inherently better, but because it’s often easier to know what you’re getting into.
That’s not to say there aren’t plenty of outstanding public schools. There are, and there’s definitely a counterargument to be made that public schools can teach children how to get by without any advantages or privileges. But the overall point, whether you go public or private, is to do your due diligence to gain a strong understanding of what a given school provides. You can often get a fairly good sense of the different values that are prioritized in different school environments.
Beyond school, there’s also something to be said for injecting some more structure into a growing child’s life. They might love their free time, but a lot of kids actually thrive with structure, and that gives you an opportunity to find additional activities and institutions that can help to teach them about the world. In an increasingly secular world, this is actually one reason that some parents still consider making a Christian church or similar house of worship part of their children’s lives. It’s not so much about specific religious teachings (though it certainly can be), but rather about the value systems inherent in those teachings. To a child, after all, the fundamentals of religion are essentially the teachings of right and wrong. This can be good to instill particularly in young children, and then the family can decide later on if a church (or temple, mosque, etc.) will continue to be part of their life.
Aside from school and religion, there are plenty of other ways that you can shape your son or daughter’s childhood in a way that teaches strong values. Looking more at leisure time, for instance, it’s a great idea to do what you can to encourage service-oriented activities. That’s not to say you should force your child to volunteer during every moment of spare time he or she has; children should enjoy plenty of carefree leisure time as well. But encouraging, say, one volunteer activity a week, or three a month, can give your child a strong sense of what it’s like to help other people with his or her time. That’s a lesson that can go a long way in life.
You can also teach similar lessons through family vacations. A trip to the nearest beach, or to go visit family, is always fun. But one of the most creative ways to teach values is to plan vacations that will help to broaden your child’s horizons. These days, that might mean traveling to a nature preserve or wildlife park, where you can speak to your child about climate change – one of the greatest challenges that will face his or her generation in the years ahead. Or it might simply mean traveling to other parts of the world entirely if you have the means to, so that your child can gain an appreciation for the different cultures of the world.
These are all suggestions that any parent can take into account, and they all speak to the fact that there’s much more to upbringing than what happens in the house. Thoughtful consideration for a child’s environment can go a long way toward the development of a strong, positive, and well-rounded worldview.