Cultivating Strong Character in Our Children

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“The greatest legacy one can pass on to one’s children and grandchildren is not money or other material things accumulated in one’s life, but rather a legacy of character…”
– Billy Graham

Benjamin Franklin is credited with the saying that the only things certain in life are death and taxes. However, allow me to add a third thing—when your teen leaves home, his or her values will be tested. How will he or she hold up, especially when homesick, friendsick, or experiencing a raging case of the lonelies? How will they react when put in a high risk situation at a party, or offered to have their mid-semester paper authored by their English major friend? During times like these, it helps mightily to have a strong character foundation. It also pays to have a well-developed list of non-negotiable values that they will, under no circumstances, compromise.

Here, on this personal balance sheet, you will find a list of values (as well as other personal assets) that you can discuss with your teen/student. Ask them which ones are most important to them and why. Discuss which ones they would never compromise, and which values they’d like to strengthen in their own lives.

Additionally, here are some helpful pointers to reinforce:

  • Character is revealed through our attitudes, behaviors, and decisions, and is often revealed when no one else is looking
  • It is extremely difficult to recover from a damaged reputation
  • Surround yourself with positive people who will help uphold your values, not encourage you to compromise them
  • The best way to maintain strong character is to avoid potentially compromising situations. The old adage, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” applies!
  • You may not always be loved, but you must be trusted
  • Don’t say something about someone else you’d regret if they heard (hard to do, but such a great discipline)
  • If you’re not sure whether to do or say something, imagine it as the headline in tomorrow’s newspaper

As you develop a strong character foundation in your teen, here are some helpful questions to consider. Use them to help guide you as you navigate parenting an older teen, even if he/she has already moved away from home. Alternately, allow your child the opportunity to answer these questions about themselves.

  • Are they guided by integrity in everything?
  • Do they demonstrate love, kindness, and respect toward others?
  • Do they live with honor and self-discipline?
  • Do they stand up for their beliefs and values with conviction?
  • Are they people of humility who encourage others?
  • Do they demonstrate a commitment to excellence and giving it their best effort?
  • Do they take full responsibility for their mistakes and shortfalls?

Know that in the teen and young adult years when they’re facing major life transitions and social adjustments, they will slip up sometimes. That’s one reason it’s so important to share in humility your own mistakes. Let them know you weren’t perfect either!

Parents, how would you rate yourself when it comes to building character in your children? What methods have you utilized to help build a strong character foundation? What have you noticed works best? As always, feel free to join in on the conversation!
About the author

Dennis Trittin is the author of What I Wish I Knew at 18: Life Lessons for the Road Ahead and Parenting for the Launch: Raising Teens to Succeed in the Real World. Through his books, blog, and nationwide speaking engagements, Dennis prepares students for life success and equips parents and educators in their vital training role. You can find him here on Facebook.

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