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What values are we really teaching our children?

September 29th, 2010

The high school in my neighborhood is highly competitive academically. The kids there are not satisfied with getting into college, they are aiming for Ivy Leagues. At the same time, there is also a growing problem of cheating and plagiarism. Somehow these high schoolers are getting the idea that good grades must be obtained at all costs, even at the cost of their integrity.

I am very sure the parents of the students are not overtly telling their children to cheat in order to make it into Harvard or Yale, but inadvertently, the value of academics has been placed so high that kids interpret it to mean that academic success trumps all other values.

Underlying messages

In a youth group meeting at my church, the teens were asked what they thought their parents expected of them. My son’s response was, straight A’s.

Now, I never said to my son, “I expect you to get straight A’s.” In fact, I made it a point to often reiterate to him to simply do his best. I made it a point to never chastise him if he did not get an A.

But as I thought honestly about it,  I did in fact expect high grades from him. When I say those common phrases that are meant to encourage him, such as,  “You are so smart”, “You have so much potential”, and  “Work hard and do your best”, I can see how my son can read them as “I expect nothing less than A’s.”  Maybe a subtle facial expression or an off-handed remark betrayed my underlying expectation for him to succeed academically. Now I would still maintain that grades themselves are not all that important to me. I do not value straight A’s for my children; it’s academic success that I value. But I can see a child could only interpret “academic success” as straight A’s.

We may think we are telling our kids to one thing, but there are underlying messages that our children are picking up.

What do you think your kids will say is the most important thing you want them to achieve?

Ask them and see if their answer aligns with your real expectations.

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