I recently walked to our local farmers’ market where hundreds of patrons milled about and there was glorious regalia everywhere. Strawberry patches with tractor rides to the fields for picking, music playing by a local three-piece band, the summer staple of spun sugar on a stick, barkers calling out to come hither and try their wares.
Woven throughout this Mayberry-esque day were the huddled masses of young people, eyes downcast as they interacted with their phones. Such a scene begs the question: Have we left our children to their own devices (so to speak) to teach them good behavior? Have parents given up the work of raising their children, outsourcing the job to technology?
These external sources now raising these kids loom large and cast a shadow on our families. Preteens and teens mingle with their peers, with their heads universally bowed, looking at a screen showcasing models scantily clad or dancing suggestively or covering youthful faces with pounds of makeup. Almost all social media outlets popular with the young scream about the importance of what we wear over how we conduct ourselves.
Certainly, there’s something to be said about how we dress and present ourselves. Our appearances can reflect the substance of our internal character. As I previously wrote for Intellectual Takeout, “The matter of dress can be thought of as a costume meant to convey a message to ourselves as well as others.”
However, the message of social media is that how we appear is more important than—and completely divorced from—our internal substance.
The importance of appearance ricochets off every device so loudly that our children have trouble hearing the gentle sounds of ethical guidelines. We are being drowned out by a cacophony of digital demands: Buy this! Wear this! Do this!
Of course, those of us on the older spectrum of life will moan and groan about smartphones and dance videos and uncommunicative young people, but is this what parents want?
Begrudging the youth for their faults won’t solve the problem. It is the responsibility of adults to showcase the beauty, the unimpeachable nature of good manners and ethical behavior, and we have a lot of work to do.
For starters, do we listen to our children? Do we talk to them and therefore teach them the art of conversation? Do we discuss what content online and elsewhere is appropriate and what is dangerous? Do we teach them empathy?
Not all these lessons have to be momentous in occasion, but rather, small tutorials in ethics form the backbone of a family. It is the simple lesson learned over time that ultimately grows a small child into a wonderful and pleasant adult.
The grand gestures of tutorage come in simple speeches to young minds that children reflect upon as they grow up: “Play nice with your sister,” “Make your bed and clean up your room,” “Tell the truth,” “Work hard and be thankful for what you have.” These are broad-brush simplicities yet are profound in their impact on a life still growing up and out.
What starts as pronounced dictates becomes a core of character over time, and saying them out loud is as important as modeling good behavior ourselves. For instance, have a conversation about modesty. Explain why showing too much skin showcases a need to be seen that can be achieved in other ways.
Deferred gratification, lessons in humility, and the work ethic formed over generations all take time to hone. First by example, then by discussion, the virtues of the intellect become the virtues of the soul. It will be easier for a young person to set down his smartphone if the possibility of a real conversation is before him. The simple truths of ethical behavior will lead to deeper conversations about books and music and literature where one day our children see a trajectory open before them that is spectacular.
Parents must not abandon their role as teacher of simple lessons. The unveiling of the minds of our children is a wondrous thing, and no one should want to miss it.
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