It is not an understatement to say that raising children is the most important job most of us will ever have. More than just making sure our kids survive to adulthood and beyond, the task of raising children to become responsible citizens has a direct, cumulative effect on the state of our societies. If we fail to ensure that our children become educated in the ways of history, science and math, if we fail to teach them about responsibility and honesty, if we fail to instill in them a sense of community and empathy, among other things, then we have no one but ourselves to blame for the decline of our social institutions. As parents, it is our duty, to our children and to society, to make sure that they reach adulthood with a certain understanding of what society will condone, what is expected of them as adults, and how they will need to act to better find their own happiness and success. Yet as parents, we can’t entirely accomplish these tasks ourselves, especially in a society increasingly dependent on two incomes to make ends meet. It takes a combined effort from parents, social goals, business interests, and political programs to make it all succeed.

The Value of Education is one of the greatest concepts we can instill on our kids. Mankind’s ability to learn and be curious is the one gift that really sets us apart from the other animals on Earth. Our ability to pass on what we learn, to expand upon what we learn, is what has enabled us to move from the caves into our condos. But just because we are inherently curious, that is no guarantee that we will use our ability to its potential. As parents, we must show our kids that learning is fun and learning opens doors of opportunity. We must foster their natural inquisitiveness, while reminding them that learning isn’t always an easy process. Learning requires listening, studying, testing, and more listening. Parents can better help their children to embrace learning by answering their questions when they can and by insisting their children show respect for their teachers. Parents and teachers need to work together instead of as adversaries to ensure that kids learn to their best ability. Outside of structured school, parents can increase their children’s curiosity with trips to museums or sporting events or libraries or with experiences in nature. To help parents achieve these things, costs for event tickets shouldn’t be out of reach for anyone making less than six figures a year. Employers could embrace more flexible work schedules to allow for more family time and yearly vacations. Society in general could learn to demand less instantaneous satisfaction in favor of a saner pace of life.

The Need for Tolerance is another important trait to instill in our children, for without tolerance we can’t coexist with any sense of normalcy. The perpetuation of racism and prejudice creates much harm to the progress of civilization, wasting so much effort, resources, and lives, that their continued existence lacks all Common Sense. As people, we are each different from each other in some way, and for someone to decide to hate or deny equality to another because of race or religion or sexual preference is as illogical as one can be, for even if you were wronged by someone of a different race or religion or what have you, this is not evidence that all others in that generalized classification are bad too. As parents, we must not only teach this to our children with words, but with our actions as well. Children perceive the subtleties we think we reserve for adults, and though they may not understand them, they certainly adopt them and make them their own. As a society, we must stop painting portions of our country as evil or idiotic simply because they have different priorities in life. We must insist on an end to the political rhetoric that serves to divide rather than unite. And just to be clear, tolerance does not mean the acceptance of heinous criminals like murderers or rapists or condoning acts that harm others or ideas that deny others equality and freedom..

The Meaning of Respect is another invaluable tool to give to our children, one that is sadly missing from today’s world. From the loss of formal salutations and assumptions of respect for ones elders to an overriding sense of self-importance, showing respect for each other is becoming archaic, much to our detriment. But the breakdown starts in the home when parents don’t demand respect from their children, and instead attempt to be their own kids’ best friend. This attitude is not how one teaches respect, as it places children on the same plane as adults, when they are neither psychologically or intellectually ready to be there. Children need authority figures and disciplinarians, and they seek them first in their parents. When they find no firm authority in the home, they equate all adults with their parents and learn to respect only those they fear, which is not really respect at all. As they grow older, this lack of respect can only offer a lifetime of combativeness or separation, certainly not positions one finds success and happiness in. Respect has many levels. There is respect for a position like doctor or teacher or firefighter. We respect these people for what they do whether we know them personally or not. We extend a certain amount of respect to them collectively, in spite of bad actions that may arise by certain individuals. Another respect is based on our personal knowledge or admiration for someone or their actions. While the first is easier to teach, the second is just as important, for through it we can reinforce the other lessons we strive to teach by holding up the success and behavior of others who exhibited those traits. Respect doesn’t necessarily mean we have to like someone or even agree with them, but a good rule of thumb is to show respect to someone until they prove themselves unworthy through their actions or through their words. We need to move back, as a society, to addressing each other with respect, or at least insisting on it from children.

Teaching Honesty is among the harder values to instill in our children, especially when the prevalent mood of society is to spin the news towards one view or the other, starting in our halls of government and working down to the classrooms in our schools. We all want our kids to be honest with us, yet we lie to them each and every day. We promote propaganda regarding sexual behavior, the effects of drugs and alcohol, personal image, and other seemingly moralistic issues. We tell our children that there is only one truth when in fact there are often multiple facets to every truth. Does this mean that we should never tell our kids anything not provable by science or direct observation? Should we give up our fairy tales with their moral lessons simply because they are fiction? This is not what I mean when I speak of being honest with our kids, for there is also an element of magic associated with childhood, a time of naivety that is enriched through fantasy. But when we sense a child is asking a serious question, for the purpose of learning, let’s give them the unblemished truth, to the age-appropriate degree that they can understand, instead of perpetuating wives tales and repeated mantras. And governments and businesses must stop twisting the truth about their actions and start being honest with the public. The truth may sometimes hurt, but they say it also sets you free.

The Concept of Service is one that shows our children that a free society depends upon the participation of all the citizens, and that by volunteering our time to help others or to clean up our cities or to coach a little league team is time well spent. When one embraces the idea of giving back to their community, one feels more a part of that community and helps to keep that community safe and clean. As parents, we can teach the concept of service by making our kids he
lp out around the house, helping relatives and friends with bigger projects or daily needs, and not paying them in cash or rewarding them in kind for every act they perform. The concept of service implies that your efforts will be returned to you when you need help, and that sometimes it is more rewarding to lend a hand than to demand a dollar. Society depends upon people helping people, and the upshot is that with an increased sense of service, many of the more mundane or everyday tasks now performed by government agencies could be handled by you and me for less costs and with better results. We should remove many of the barriers that prevent people from helping out, including a propensity to sue each other over every minor slight or mishap.

Personal Responsibility is something all children must eventually learn if they are ever to earn the respect of others, care for themselves financially, and provide for their own families someday. Personal responsibility is the ability to pay one’s own bills, hold down a job, keep one’s word to others, provide for their family, and stay out of legal trouble. When parents make excuses for their own child’s bad behavior they are not teaching personal responsibility. When a parent does their child’s homework for them they are not teaching personal responsibility. When a parent buys kids everything they ask for, or when a parent ignores their child’s dishonesty or when a parent never demands their child pick up after themselves, they are not teaching personal responsibility. When there are no consequences to actions, there is no personal responsibility. The end result is an adult who can admit no wrong, who is never to blame, and who always knows the best way to do everything. As a society, we need to stop idolizing those figures that do not espouse the tenets of personal responsibility. We need to stop promoting behaviors that are based only on selfish motives. And we must each try to keep our word to each other and to our children.

Common Sense parenting isn’t as much about what practical skills you may teach your kids so much as it is about making sure they have the tools to learn those skills themselves and to put those skills to good use. It isn’t about following a particular path or walking the same road as everyone else as much as it is about treating each other in a similar way and expecting the same in return. Society has a stake in successful parenting, and should work together to help parents teach their kids. Business leaders should make time for families more valuable than they do now, for eventually, they will need to hire these kids, and they’ll want them to have some manners and social graces. And parents need to quit trying to be their kids’ best friend. It’s time to reinforce our social values together instead of indulging our own egos and perpetuating our own irrational prejudices at our kids (and society’s) expense.