There are few things more vital to dads than finding ways to transfer our values to our children and other youth of the next generation. For many of us, the older we get and the more we think about the future, the more important this becomes as a goal and desire for our fathering.
How do we transmit values to the next generations? It can happen at the dinner table, playing ball, sitting in the stands watching our kids, taking walks or interacting with the neighbors. We’re creating a storehouse of images and memories in our kids’ minds that could live on and shape important decisions they face as adults. More specifically, it comes down to our example, our words, and experiences.
Our example may be the most important factor here.
Several young men struggled with alcohol abuse in their teens and early adulthood. One went through serious life struggles that were made worse because of his drinking habit, and the other was in a tragic car accident after he’d been drinking, where all the passengers in the car died except for him. Both men said that the first time they had ever taken a drink was with their dads.
Most dads would never intentionally initiate their sons into a potentially destructive habit or hand their child a bottle of something dangerous. But that’s exactly what can happen if we let our guard down. Through our example, we communicate values in all sorts of ways because our kids are always watching us.
Then we have to follow it up with words.
Since we’re imperfect examples—and since we can’t guarantee that our children will interpret our actions correctly—dads should also talk often about what we believe and what’s important. If some of the messages that our children hear from the media or their friends go against our values, do they realize it if we aren’t talking about those important matters? We must be careful about what we approve of through our silence or inactivity.
Our children need to hear from us about our values early and often. If they don’t, it’s reasonable for them to assume we’re indifferent, and they’re free to choose. These don’t have to be—and probably shouldn’t be—long lectures, but short conversations, maybe simple observations when we’re doing something together, or maybe bringing up a challenging question every once in a while.
And it should be noted: our words and actions (or example) need to send consistent messages. Our kids know if our walk matches our talk; few things will turn our kids against our values than hearing us advocate certain principles or ideas, and then seeing our lives reflect something much different.
Give them an experience.
Kids learn about values (and most other things) best when they have real-life experiences that make the principles or values come alive. For example, years ago one dad had an idea when his young sons saw TV coverage of starving people in Africa and asked, “Can we send some money to help those kids?” Instead of just writing a check, the dad made it a teaching time. He gathered the family together to come up with ideas, and they decided to fast for two days the following weekend and donate the amount they would normally spend for food.
That weekend they experienced hunger, but they also talked about sacrificing to help others, the abundance they had compared to many people in the world, and even deeper questions about why some people struggle with hunger and related issues. Those boys are now grown and have children of their own, but they have never forgotten that time.
Dads, we should all be creative in giving our kids those kinds of experiences with values attached. (And while we’re at it, we’ll probably do a lot of good for people around us or around the world.)
Do you want your children to turn out like you? The good and the bad? You can bet that they will reflect the personal values you consistently talk about and live out.
What works with your kids when it comes to passing on values? Leave a comment and interact with other dads on our Facebook page.
Action Points & Questions for Reflection and Discussion:
- What are your values? What are they based on? Talk about them with your spouse or another dad you know well. At the very least, spend time getting them straight in your mind.
- For each of the values you have identified, come up with 2-3 practical ways you could build those values into your time with your children, whether it’s through your example, your words, or experiences you have together.
- What is your #1 goal as a father? What do you want most for your children?
- Identify some ways you have had to overcome shortcomings in your dad in order to be the kind of father you want to be. You don’t want to shame or accuse him, but you need to fully understand his influence on you.
- Think about one bad habit or shortcoming in you that you’d hate to see showing up in your kids’ lives. Get serious about addressing that character flaw going forward, for your kids’ sake.
- What’s an experience from your youth that helped to shape your values in a positive way? How could you make something similar happen with your kids?