~Familiaris Consortio #21
As the authority of the family, parents have been given the task of leading their children to goodness. When parents offer guidance and their children choose to follow their direction it is very fulfilling. But, it can also be very difficult because children are capable of making poor judgments, and even of choosing evil instead of goodness. Just like parents, children have a fallen nature that often results in sinful actions.
Parents shouldn’t let the harsh reality of sin lower their expectations for their children. Yes, children will sin no matter how hard parents try to avoid it. But that doesn’t mean that their efforts are in vain. Parents should expect their children to be good, especially when there is a weakness in resolve and a tendency to make poor judgments.
Standards for behavior lead children towards goodness and away from sinful tendencies. Just as guardrails on highways frame the road bed and prevent drivers from going in the ditch, standards for behavior safely frame the path children take each and every day. Standards direct children towards a predetermined outcome and set the course to arrive at the desired outcome. Creating good standards is the practical application of parental authority.
positively rather than negatively.
Remember that authentic authority does not mean exercising power for the sake of controlling others and limiting their freedom. True authority leads to goodness. And, what is truly good should ultimately lead to the fullness of freedom. After all, God gave us freedom so that we could freely choose the goodness He has in store for us. Standards train children to choose God’s goodness for themselves.
We cannot expect children to understand or utilize personal freedom because it is an abstract concept. Children are concrete thinkers. That is precisely the reason why it is so important for parents to create specific behavioral standards. A child may not be able to grasp the concept of “respect each other’s property.” However, a child can understand the behavioral standard of “always ask permission before entering someone’s bedroom.” As this standard becomes a habit in the child, it will mature into the general concept of respect for others’ property and privacy.
Standards of behavior shape the character of children positively rather than negatively. They help parents focus on what they want to see, rather than on what they don’t want to see. In other words, standards are a way to parent pro- actively rather than re-actively.
Setting standards of behavior benefits the entire family. Research on child outcomes clearly shows that setting standards for correct behavior leads to better outcomes for kids. Reasonable standards hold a family together. When family members know what is expected, they can count on each other and demonstrate the virtue of temperance. When family members share the same standards, they experience fairness and become more just. When family members integrate the same standards into their lives, they develop a clearer understanding of right and wrong that leads to prudence. And, when problems do arise, clear standards of behavior make it easier to face the conflicts and find workable and just solutions. Developing, communicating and enforcing clear standards will lead to family goodness and love.
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